There’s an old story about Henry Ford, the originator of the assembly line, hiring an efficiency expert. After a thorough inspection of his plant, the expert reported back to Mr. Ford to review his findings. As the story goes, the expert said, "Mr. Ford your plant is most efficient, and I could find only a few areas that could be improved as will be detailed in my report. There is however, one area that troubles me. The man in the office three doors down the hall is very lazy, each time I walk by his office I see him leaned back in his chair staring out the window. I checked with the payroll office and found that he is paid very well, it is clear to me that his salary is wasted.” Mr. Ford replied, "nine months ago, that man had an idea that saved us two million dollars, and I believe at the time he was leaned back in his chair looking out the window – I think I’ll keep him”.
During the summer holiday season, many of us dream of lying on the beach, sitting by the river, or gazing at a campfire. A lot of us perceive these activities as doing nothing meaningful, just a bit of recreation. We might even feel a tinge of guilt. So here’s another way to look at "down time”. If you add a hyphen to the word recreation, it becomes re-creation, and a whole different aspect comes to light. It should be clear that there is more to life than just doing, after all, we aren’t referred to as human doings; we are human beings. What makes humans so distinctive in the first place, is that they can have ideas and develop concepts. Our challenge is that we may not take enough time to understand and refine our thoughts and ideas before we act on them. Many of the societal and environmental problems that we are coping with today are the result of past activities that weren’t thoroughly considered. Someone was either in a rush, thinking in the short term, or acting out of the wrong motives, and now we are faced with undoing the result: cleaning up the mess so to speak.
In the 1930’s Albert Einstein, in a famous essay, worried for the future of humanity due to, of all things, the electric light. His concern was that being able to illuminate the dark would enable people to work all hours of the day. He predicted a shortage of great thinkers, politicians, artists and philosophers, simply because of people working, when they might have been thinking, discussing, and creating. Remarkably, his essay was written in the early days of radio and decades before television and internet. The recent finding that an increasing number of Canadians are electing to skip holidays in order to work more, adds credence to his concern.
What is put at risk by this practice, is the understanding of why we do what we do, our connection to others, and our feeling of being part of something much larger. It becomes easier to feel isolated, allowing material pleasures to become the main source of satisfaction, in turn deepening the cycle.
My advice is to take those holidays, watch the water sparkle, or the campfire glow, and share time with family or friends. Talk about what is meaningful, contemplate the stars like your ancestors did, or hear a bird fly by before you see it. Enjoy the muscular tingle after a good hike or the scent of seaweed and surf. Treat your problems and concerns like the music in the mall, you can hear if you want, but you don’t let it distract you. Balance all of that "doing” with some "not-doing”, perhaps then you will have to do less "un-doing” in the future. This is re-creation, it brings greater meaning to life as Henry and Albert understood many years ago.