The Busy and the Bored
Joe Clark ~~ Feb 4, 2003

I've noticed over the past few weeks that most people can fit into one of two categories. The categories, as you may have guessed, are the busy or hurried people and the bored people. Some people are crazy busy, with a million things going on it seems at any particular moment. Then there are those people who seem to have limitless free time (often to their own discontent). I'm sure there are also those who have an appropriate balance, but for the sake of argument, let's polarize the situation and discuss the two extremes.

I think that the interaction between bored people and busy (boring?) people is interesting to watch. Typical situation: The bored people are bored. The busy people are busy. The bored people would like to be busy doing things, often with the busy people. The busy people politely decline, since their busyness prevents adding any additional events. Or, the busy people give some time, but it is only a cursory amount -- in other words, spreading themselves too thin to be of any value, at least to anyone requesting entrance into an already-filled schedule.

Thus the polarization. What is to be said of this? This was the topic of discussion at church this past weekend -- the habitual hurriedness that pervades our society. Apparently the loud promises of technology giving us more free time do not deliver. Actually, it is somewhat true that technology makes our lives easier, but at the same time we find more things to fill up our lives. Sometimes bad things. But I'm talking about the good things -- the "white noise" if you will. Most of the busy people are busy doing good things, doing useful things. But moderation reminds us that overdoing anything is not healthy for us or for those around us. In the spiritual sense, busyness does not allow us to focus on the Great Commandment (love God, love people). The big-o question that no one seems to know how to answer for sure is "How much is too much?"

So, where am I on this continuum? It's interesting -- I try to be somewhere in the middle, and sometimes I think I am. Some people say I never seem to be at home, but compared to other people I often feel rather unbusy. So I like my position, although I sometimes have a problem of filling my time with useless things and could probably find better ways of using my time. I know that the game of hurriedness has a lot to do with priorities. Being busy is in some ways a virtue (in the same way that laziness is not), but the busy people would do well to realize that when other people and events request addition to their schedule, especially from the bored people, the busy people should think twice before summarily rejecting that addition by saying, "I'm busy go away." Now, I speak from experience when I say, "People who are too busy for me are annoying." But I also speak from (I hope) objectivity when I say that it is also not always healthy for the busy person either. If you cry busy too many times, who will be there when you actually need time from others? Maybe the bored people will find other ways to fill their time. The point is don't let opportunities fall through the cracks without thinking twice. As those great quote websites will say, older folks tell us that they don't wish they'd spent more time at work or on the road or drinking beer. They usually wish they'd spent more time enjoying the simple things in life, slowing down the pace and celebrating the moments of life and the people of life, not just the weeks as they fly by in busy furor.

So, if you are bored out there, I feel for you, as I know (or can guess) your feelings in this area. Free time is good, but too much of it can be quite annoying. If you are busy, I can try and understand that as well...I can remember times when I've been crazy busy (eg college), and at times I am busy in my current life (but not as often). But on my "better" days, I have less time for the people who have less time for me. That's not really true, because I choose to "waste" my time on the people I want to, rather they are busy or annoying or not. But if I were as stalwart and strong as I should be, and if I could live out my backlash coping goals, I would ignore people in direct proportion to how much they ignore me. That way, the busy people can do their own thing, and the people with time to spend with me can receive their just due from me. It doesn't always work that way, but that would be the most beneficial to everyone.

What I just said is rather interesting. I basically said, "I should treat people like they treat me, but I don't." (This is not the Golden Rule, and it is not exactly Christian virtue, but it is a practical help for dealing with people sometimes). This is probably typical of the human condition, and I think it has something to do with playing favorites. If I choose to put up with someone, it doesn't matter all that much what they do; I will still come back for more if they show some sign of changing (even if I'm fairly sure the sign is just a sign and not a reality). This fact in my own mind leads me to believe that other people do the same thing, and it leads me to believe that people do what they choose to. People make time for who and what they choose to. None of us are completely unbiased in our willingness to put up with people, or our desire to spend time with people. Some people we really wish were unbusy, and some people we really don't care. So it's not just about busyness -- it's also about the "relational pecking order", but I've already whined about such topics in previous "wise thoughts", so I probably don't need to expound any more on that.

Also, if you are busy, contemplate compromises. Call me crazy, but I think that most of the busy people could find ways to admit others into their lives if they so chose. It depends on the busyness, of course, but if someone is busy doing some public service or volunteer effort (for example) it may be possible to bring along a bored person to join in the service. That way, the bored person not only gets to spend time with a busy person, but they also get the joy of service. You can probably think of other similar cases. Be creative. My position is that "I'm busy go away" is, to some degree, being too busy even to try and compromise or come up with some way to share time. But then again, I'm not that busy, so who am I to say? If I were busy, I wouldn't have time to sit here and complain about it, would I?

Well those are my thoughts. The people who matter will probably read these lines sooner or later. The people who don't maybe won't, but...one is wise to focus on the people who care, and not worry about those who don't. One is wise not to expect people to change. Actions, not words, people. It's easy to say, "Oh wretched life I am too busy." But if nothing changes, and life is always just as busy, well....I have better things to do (or I'll find something better to do) than to wait for forever busy people to schedule me in. If they do, joy for me. If not, oh well, too bad for us all.