Picture two friends running into each other at the grocery store. Their conversation goes something like this:
“Hey, great to see you! How are you?”
“Wow, super busy. You?”
“Oh, same as you. Busier than ever!”
We used to say, “Fine,” even if we weren’t. There will always be situations where this exchange is meant to be a polite social ritual, not an invitation to download every trauma we’ve encountered over the past week. When we walk into the office in the morning or greet the barista, “Fine, thanks!” is a polite response.
But now, we aren’t fine. We are busy. Super busy.
Sometimes I wonder if we equate being busy with being valuable. If we replied, “I’ve been taking it easy the past few days,” would we fear being judged as lazy, unproductive, or – worst of all – selfish?
Someone, misguidedly, once said, “The person with the busiest calendar wins.” What is it that they win, I wonder? An ulcer?
Since many folks need research to believe something is true, I’ll say that research is proving what artists, writers, philosophers and poets have been saying for centuries. We need quiet, un-busy time to think, daydream, contemplate and imagine. When we reserve this kind of time for ourselves, all of our other endeavors flourish. We solve problems more effectively, we are actually present in our relationships, we notice the abundant beauty in the world that we stop seeing for all our rushing about.
I’ve consciously attempted to eliminate “Busy!” as a response to people who ask how I am or how it’s going. I am experimenting with, “Excited about a class I’m teaching!” or “I’ve been reading up on Iran,” or some variation on what is inspiring me these days. With a close friend, I might say, “I’m struggling,” if that’s true in the moment. With the cashier, I might say, “Enjoying the sunshine! How is your day going?”
When you stop to think about it, there a hundred authentic ways to respond to, “How are you?” that are still socially appropriate and not make people cautiously back away from you.
Let’s abandon the “Busy!” mantra and be real, be human, be interesting. We are so much more than our calendars.