Friday, July 10, 2009

Who needs it?

"Hi, yer young and you got yer health.  What you want with a job?"

--Evelle, to H.I. McDunnough, in Raising Arizona

"Productivity" is one of the cherished virtues of amorphous American culture.  How often do we hear people say something to the effect of, "I got up at a decent hour today and had a very productive day."  Or, "Well, at least I was productive."  Or, "I could never retire because I have to be productive."  

Personally, I think productivity is the most overrated of our cultural values.  What IS "productivity" anyway?  Does that mean I should have some kind of finished product at the end of the day, whether it be clean dishes, a paycheck, or an oil painting?  I never understood what "productivity" is supposed to produce.  I suspect that, at the end of the day, productivity simply eases existential anxiety.  

I often like to joke that I'm not one of those people who needs to be "productive."  Like a great many jokes, this one is embedded in dead serious earnestness.  I don't need to feel like I accomplished something every day.  (By the way, this is a variation of the oft-repeated sentiments I quoted above:  "I got a lot accomplished today.")  In fact, I'd really like to see a revolution.  Instead of touting the productivity of our days, I'd like to hear something akin to, "I contemplated a lot today."  What would that revolution mean?  

Well, think about this.  A famous actress once said, "Tell me what you do, and I'll tell you who you are."  Really?  I mean, really?  It seems to me that if we stopped DOING, we might have to actually think about who we ARE.  Can it really be that who we are is what we do?  For better or worse, we seem to believe this, or else we wouldn't be on such a fervent quest for productivity.  

I propose a new holiday--wu wei day.  Wu wei, or, the Art of Doing Nothing.  There would be no point in creating greeting cards for this, because if we spent a lot of time sending out cards for this holiday, we would be doing something, wouldn't we?  No, we need a holiday to celebrate nothingness, by . . . . doing . . . . nothing.

1 comment:

  1. I have a strong work ethic! I do! I just don't understand American "busyness" at all times. In my mind, "productivity" and "work ethic" are two entirely distinct things.