Slow down, you move too fast!

Reprinted from The Common Good, no. 28, Advent 2003
By Donella Meadows

Slowing down could be the single most effective action to save the world.

Those of us who think the world needs saving — from environmental destruction, rapacious greed, decaying morals, drugs, crime, racism, whatever — keep very busy crusading for our favourite remedies. School vouchers. Carbon taxes. Campaign reform. The Endangered Species Act. A lower capital gains tax. Strong regulation. No regulation. You know. That long list of mutually inconsistent Holy Grails with which we like to hit each other over the head.

There’s one solution to the world’s problems, however, that I never hear the frenzied activists suggest.

Slowing down.

Slowing down could be the single most effective solution to the particular save-the-world struggle I immerse myself in — the struggle for sustainability, for living harmoniously and well within the limits and laws of the Earth.

Suppose we weren’t in such a hurry. We could take time to walk instead of drive, to sail instead of fly. To clean up our messes. To discuss our plans throughout the whole community before we send in bulldozers to make irreversible changes. To find out how many fish the ocean can produce before boats race out to beat other boats to whatever fish are left.

Suppose we went at a slow enough pace not only to smell the flowers, but to feel our bodies, play with children, look openly without agenda or timetable into the faces of loved ones. Suppose we stopped gulping fast food and started savouring slow food, grown, cooked, served and eaten with care. Suppose we took time each day to sit in silence.

I think, if we did those things, the world wouldn’t need much saving.

We could cut our energy and material use drastically, because we would get the full good out of what we use. We wouldn’t have to buy so many things to save time. (Have you ever wondered, with all our time-saving paraphernalia, what happens to the time we save?) We wouldn’t make so many mistakes. We could listen more and hurt each other less. Maybe we could even take time to reason through our favourite solutions, test them, and learn what their actual effects are.

Said Thomas Merton, who spent his time in a Trappist monastery: ‘‘There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist . . . most easily succumbs: activism and over-work . . . To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many people, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of the activist neutralizes his work for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of his own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.’’

A friend in India tells me that the onslaught of Western advertising in his country is a cultural blow, not so much because of the messages of the ads but because of their pace. The stun-the-senses barrage of all television programming, especially ads, is antithetical to a thousands-year-old tradition of contemplation. I can imagine that. I have been driven crazy by the somnolent pace at which things get done in India. Don’t these people know that time is money? What they know, actually, is that time is life, and to go zooming through it is to miss living.

S l o w . . . d o w n. Do that first. Then, quietly, carefully, think about what else might need to be done.

The only problem with this cure is that I can’t prescribe it for others, because I have such trouble following it myself to get swept up in the hurtling pace of the world. Like most of the other world-savers I know, I’m way too busy to eat well, sit quietly, take a vacation, or even, some days, think.

Edward Abbey, the great curmudgeon of environmentalism, knew better: ‘It is not enough to fight for the land; it is important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for awhile and contemplate the precious stillness, that lovely, mysterious and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive.’

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