I have a love-hate relationship with efficiency and productivity. Ask my sister, she will tell you about the countless times I lamented to her about how unproductive I was, how I felt rotten for not doing this-and-that. She would just look up from her guitar or Netflix, look at me, and either laugh at or dismiss my worries. Sometimes nothing feels better than just being alive, heh.
I am not missing any deadlines, perhaps if I was more obsessive, probably the work I am producing would be more perfect. More so, the world is beset with issues and surely would not benefit from my laziness. Also, efficiency is highly prized at work and just helps the cogs and wheels churn a bit easier.
I told my boyfriend about how I was comforted by his laziness. *Laughs* I think he wasn’t offended, I hope. But I do admire his ability to feel rested about what he chooses to do or not do. I definitely suffer from comparing myself to others. I thought I was doing well until I met another friend of mine who was the most incredibly efficient human being I met. The other issue that compounds my want to be efficient is my ENFP-ness (ah, of course, blame my personality). I want to do so many things. I made it a point this year to do ONE thing well- study hard. And yet I just feel like rebelling against that now, and get myself involved in so many other things. OK not really, just one other thing. I just feel mildly uncomfortable that my passivity in studying and investing in my current relationships ‘isn’t enough’ when children in the Middle East are barely making it. Of course, I try and do the dutiful thing and donate money, share articles, talk about it.
Perhaps I do see my world in silos. But definitely studying hard for my exams next year will help me be a better doctor, which in turn, will form the base to allow me to make more meaningful contributions as I become a bit more senior. I have small things, like friendships and my current house church. Again, the impulse is to make these things ‘grander’. But in these ‘small’ things that I do have now, they do matter to me. Although it means that I may have not a lot of time for other things like saving the world, if I can make just a tiny ripple in the world I am living in, then I am faithful to what I have been called to at the moment. Nothing feels better than knowing that I had enough time for something or someone I cared about, even if it means I may have to give up being involved in something more exciting. It’s not about starting something new that counts as faith necessarily, it’s sticking to it that matters. I have a tendency to spin ideas really quickly and then feel like I have to chase my ideas so that I do not look bad for just talking but not acting. But what I have found is that I tend to drift to projects or things that matter to me most, and the pruning either happens deliberately or because I just realise I can’t.
We like things efficient… on our own terms
Now that I have done some navel-gazing, I do wonder too, as a community, if we prize efficiency too much. Nobody really likes waiting. I think this for me is especially apparent in my church when sometimes, good ideas take a while to unpack. It may take up to an hour or slightly more to get the point across, even when the talk was well-planned. But I feel that the general consensus is that ‘we don’t have time for 2-hour services’, ‘why can’t the sermon be shorter’. On the other hand, we have no qualms about spending hours on our screens, or having fun, as long as it is on our own terms. We don’t like taking the time to stew over what we have read, fact-check- so that is why we see fake news being shared quite readily, or why our viewpoints become narrowed to what we are naturally sympathetic with. We are happy to let Facebook curate our information diet. It’s snappy, it fills us up.
What does a world that prizes productivity look like?
I grew up in a predominant narrative where your race was maybe more important than your performance, and in a community that resisted that narrative. However, I do question meritocracy, productivity, efficiency, because it is never a level-playing field. Meritocracy with an element of fair affirmative action (in my opinion), is the best working model we have to select people to receive resources that are limited in this world. It is however, as flawed as democracy or capitalism or socialism is.
Nevertheless, the world that prizes a human being purely for their economic value the person brings to the world (be it either via money, power (be it intelligence, talent, political) or sex) is dysfunctional. Don’t get me wrong, it’s absolutely frustrating to treat a patient who abuses his or her own body and takes no responsibility for their life, being a burden on the other good tax-paying citizens. However, it gives me a lot more perspective when I see a heart-broken relative or friend being distraught by the state of this irresponsible patient, and the value of that patient to them is present just because they are their friend/brother/sister/mother/father. My objective friends who denounce these patients still have a much softer stance on their relatives or friends who do not toe the line of productivity too. Why the bias? Needless to say, these ‘annoying patients’ are often isolated and will probably not mean anything to anyone. We can say that it was brought upon themselves, oh definitely it often feels like that.
So I guess, rather than seeing someone’s worth as ‘how much they can bring to the world’, perhaps a better question would be ‘how much do they mean to the larger human family, even if they had no one who cared about them personally’? It’s very idealistic and full of holes, like, how do you treat a hardened psychopath? (I would still definitely lock this person away because he hasn’t taken his liberty responsibly, but this isn’t an issue of productivity anymore…) Even in community groups, the most admired people are those who are most productive- who have either the most money, power (and strength) and sexual attractiveness- I see this in church, all the way to my work environment.
Can we look at each other (and at ourselves) with fresh eyes, not following the impulse of assigning economic value to everyone and everything?