Thursday, January 28, 2010

On Wasting Time

I have always been interested in the concept of time--not concerned about it, mind you, just intrigued by the very idea. And I am the first to admit, that the subject is far too deep and too close to God, for any one of us--myself in particular--to really wrap our brains around.

I have never known how to respond to people of a certain age who speak of the fleetingness of time, of "time slipping away," or wistfully wondering "where the time has gone," as if it were a commodity of which they suddenly find themselves in short supply. I have never felt that way in the least. If anything, time moves slowly for me. The days of my youth, adolescence and early adulthood already seem several lifetimes ago to me. The length of each day is about right, as is the night. Perhaps the only time I consider the swiftness of time is every Sunday night when I administer my pug's weekly eye-drop treatment. Each time, it seems as though I had just done so.

From this vantage point, my adaptation to an Orthodox understanding of time has been one of the easier transitions. I am supremely unqualified to pontificate on the timelessness of the Church, whether it be from a simple historical consideration--the visible and tangible connectedness of the Church in time--or the rhythm of time as lived out in the Church's cycle of feasts and fasts, or the eternal "now" of the Faith, or the Eighth Day, or the timelessness of our worship amidst the "vast cloud of witnesses." I just know my being at ease with time somehow fits in the Orthodox scheme of things, and I will leave it to others to explain.

But someone who does know how to speak on the subject is Jonathan David Price in Front Porch Republic , where he has interesting things to say about the proper and needful waste of time, found here.

...we have more time now than ever before. One would think that since modern men...have more time, they would think less of it. In fact, quite the opposite is true. The same applies to health and money. We are healthier and wealthier than ever, and these facts have neither calmed our fears nor added peace to our souls. Actually, we seem more anxious than ever about how we spend our time.

This newly-won time, occurring on weekends, evenings, and during paid vacations, is called “free time,” and it is a byproduct of industrialization....The majority waste their free time without a second thought....But there is another group...that busies itself with doing and getting and self-betterment. This cadre of terrible at wasting time. And even worse at wasting it well. The problem is that they consider leisure to be a waste of time as well.

Since the value of work is set so high, it is unlikely that this group of go-getters would soon perceive leisure as a good use of time....If leisure is the basis of culture, as Joseph Pieper argues, and if we have before us a group of time-conscious (future) leaders that considers leisure a waste of time, then to save the culture of our civilization we should first teach them to waste time. And then how to waste it profoundly.

Knowing what should be changed takes reflection, as does knowing what could be changed, and how. Acting without knowledge can do great harm. Thus, sometimes it may even be better not to act. There is no virtue in action per se....Now imagine the legion of petty peccadilloes and mistakes that each of us makes, and with the best intentions, since we cannot do good without also risking harm. We should thus be more cautious about trying to do good, more thoughtful.

That’s the rub. In our age, there is a covert moral position on the side of action. The belief that I am responsible not to waste time is tied up with the belief that my work can always be beneficial to myself or those around me or those who are affected, so long as my intentions are good and I try hard enough....The limits of human actions are not recognized. Human nature is skewed. Personal inadequacy is ignored. The call to know the world, to know the self, to have as much knowledge and wisdom as possible before acting—the classical fruits of leisure—fall on ears made deaf by self-help podcasts and on minds rendered inaccessible to formation by self-esteem.

Time is not as valuable as it seems, and it is less scarce than ever....And there is no telling what kind of trouble one may cause with good intentions and plentiful time. We do not own time. Thinking time is ours is hubris on the order of Prometheus—he stole fire from the Gods, and we took time. Since possession is nine tenths of the law, we now think that it is ours.

Civilization can be defined as that which a people cannot live without, as what have become necessities of life. Our culture is changing so that it values only material things or what helps you get material things. As the intellectual and spiritual are removed from the realm of what is necessary, we are losing our civilization by atrophy.

Philosophy, theology, poetry, ethics, the natural sciences, foreign languages, music, worship, novels, the civilizations of Greece and Rome, art, mathematics, cosmology, political theory, if all these are considered wastes of time for non-professionals, then by Jove I urge you to waste time. Waste it with panache. Waste years if necessary. These are bound up with what makes and sustains culture, and are part and parcel of active leisure. I know that already some of you are wasting time well. But in our age of transparency, I would encourage you to come out of the closet—or out from behind the bookshelf, as it were—as a time-waster. Join up with others and waste it like there is no tomorrow. Because if you don’t waste it well, there may not be a tomorrow, at least not one you would recognize.

A well-stated call to inaction, indeed. I am going to get started right now.

Poussin, A Dance to the Music of Time

1 comment:

Milton T. Burton said...

We need to see here what Wordsworth has to say:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.--Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.