Opinionista Bob Skinstad 24 September 2013

Too fast, too furious?

The reflections found in this article come from an awful experience this week, one that made me think that maybe our work/life balance, or lack there of, closes us up to experience and to feeling. It made me think that, by and large, we are rushing through life so quickly that we are forgetting to feel any real emotion about it.

I’m a living example of living too fast. I find I rush through some parts of my life and forget that they need to be reacted to – sometimes enjoyed, sometime endured, but noticed nonetheless. When close colleagues and companions notice of the signs that I am failing to stop and smell the roses, luckily I can reflect on their remonstrations. I have promised to always try to stop and see what part of my life the rush or chase is influencing, and whether I am living some parts of it at the expense of others. Not perfect, I know, but a way to stop it all from coming to an abrupt halt, or at least helping to manage the flow. This is something that is often clearer to others than it is to you, so it might be more apparent from the outside, or as an observation of something happening to others.

I felt this once particularly in my time overseas. The rush for money and finance jobs made the “City” a place of extremes. Excessive entertaining, income and comparison-making in the not yet maligned banking industry made the Square Mile a misunderstood place of myth and mystery. It was on the train to fortune in that part of London, where the partner of a colleague had a traumatic experience.

It started as a purely uncomfortable one, one that has been endured by many. As an attractive mid-20s woman, she had been the subject of various elements of lewd behaviour in trains before. Understandably, the overt leaning of the person next to her, onto her, was perceived as the beginning of another similar incident. Drool on to her shoulder and a head almost in her lap were the final straw, and she pushed back against the offender, a man of middle age.

He remained in position for a bit, but then leaned quickly back on her shoulder. Exasperated by his fixation with her, she engaged for another shove. This time, something told her to look up, and the ashen, fixed and lifeless face told a different story.

Heart attacks are apparently a regular occurrence on the tube. With the hustle of work already weighing heavily, and the push, shove and grind of just finding a place to stand on your regular commute, you can understand that stress levels go through the proverbial roof. Stress is a known killer, and the environment is perfect for it to attack any weak point.

Back to our protagonist. A gentle soul, she was moved to do something about this and pulled the emergency lever, just above her head, so that train didn’t leave the station that they were paused at. Apparently, a big mistake.

The vitriolic abuse she suffered from the passengers has stayed with her through her time in the UK capital. Cutting personal remarks about the selfish nature of her actions flew from the other side of the carriage, where most of the people had gathered to leave her holding up what had now been identified as a corpse.

You selfish b*tch, I don’t suppose you care about the f****ng rest of us who have to actually work for a living,” was the last sentence that remained with her, and stopped her from commuting for a good while.

It makes sense that more exposure to hardships and difficulties would make us react less to the difficulties of others or to those of our own in a far more negative way. Lack of civility or kindness, would surely erode our own.

This must all contribute to us allowing things that would have been tragic and life altering to a less brow-beaten self to be consigned to the growing pile of “Things I am now numb to”, and it’s concerning.

More importantly, because we can’t always control the life we live, we don’t even see it building up our defences and emotional barriers and hardening our souls, until we can’t actually recognise who we are.

I know what happened on that train is not an isolated incident, so back to my experience.

Sitting in the departure passageway of OR Tambo, waiting for the last remaining plane and clutching my ticket, that dread announcement rings in my ears: “Ladies and Gentlemen, we regret to announce…”

A 20 minute delay, the frantic scrambling of people for mobile phones and a 100 similar conversations about changing arrival times, and therefore plans, pick ups and organising.

One rang clearer than others: “I dunno, it’s come in from Kenya, and apparently some idiots are shooting up a mall there, so they are on high alert or something, not sure, yes, about half an hour I think. You would think they could get a friggen move on, we are definitely gonna miss the awards, but should be there for the after party. Ya, see you later.”

Contextually I can understand it, an isolated incident on the other side of the world is not historically part of what we need to react to.

But for goodness sake, look at this incident in terms of the reactions to it. Press releases have been put out on Twitter by religious groups claiming responsibility and the updated mortality figures are flying around Facebook, alongside updated pictures of family additions playing happily on the floor.

A terrorist incident is now part of the daily stresses of work, life and travel.

In official reaction, President Uhuru Kenyatta has asked the world leaders “refrain from issuing travel warnings” or effectively, to dismiss any negative perceptions of Kenya as a tourist destination. All within 48 hours of a major international incident.

Effectively, before the total damage has been ascertained, and the losses totalled up, we are being encouraged to move on.

Move right along folks, nothing to see here.

At this pace, we can’t react to anything, unless we are dumbing it down, removing anything that actually has an effect on our lives, and just scaling all incidents into little bytes of information that we process. Even the newspapers have to show more and more gruesome photos of recently deceased to try to hold your attention for a little longer.

Just like those corporate Suits, who wanted the young girl to endure her troubles for one more station so that they didn’t have to interrupt their perfectly planned corporate climb, we are making ourselves a perfect filter for information.

If it is not affecting us directly, we put it into a place where we know enough to talk about it, but don’t care enough to try to fix it. The plight of rhinos, the price of petrol, the reasons behind terrorism. Not my problem, don’t involve me.

It just doesn’t feel like it’s the right way to go. DM


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