Commentary

Einstein's Corner: Bending Time

In the July 12th issue of Online Spin, Seana Mulcahy posed an interesting and courageous question: "Does Our Work Really Matter?" It takes guts to set aside convention and ask yourself the hard questions every now and then. Even more to do it out loud in front of an audience. We need to do it more often.

I would like to examine a variation on Seana's question, explore the next rung on the existential ladder: Does our time really matter? After all, we spend most of our waking time at work, and most of us would like to feel in our hearts that we do something meaningful with our time here on earth.

Time is of the essence. It's clearly our most precious nonrenewable resource. Our only real inventory. But how can Seana's question exist in a world where time is so important, so revered? If our time matters, how can our work not matter? If our time matters, our work must matter, at least to us.

The quality of our life and work is a reflection of how we spend our time, pure and simple. Thus, the true downside of our addictions to media, technology, and all other obsessions: Time devoted to them is time diverted away from the quality of life. It is time displaced. Time bent.

Any recovering addict will tell you how addiction bends time. How the first five minutes of acting out suddenly morph into five hours or five days. The most profound regret of many addicts in recovery is not how addiction compelled them to spend their time, but in those things that time devoted to addiction displaced: marriages, family, friends, kids, jobs. What difference does it make if the narcotic involved is heroin, alcohol, media, or work?

More time is the number one item on everyone's wish list. Time starvation, however, is a spiritual dilemma, just as addiction is first and foremost a spiritual affliction. Each condition reflects a profound disconnect, a growing and isolating sense of deprivation in a universe of sheer abundance. Externally, our time is measured in all the things we take the time to do, the things we accomplish; internally, we measure time in all the things we don't take time for, the things left undone--the neglected things we live to regret. No one on their deathbed wishes they had spent more time in the office, or in front of the TV. (Not yet, anyway.)

We are always told that balance is the key. Yet our addictions to the media and technology all but preclude any ability to put things in proper perspective, our work included. And balance is really nowhere apparent, at least not in the average 11.7 hours of media we consume each and every day.

I think the answer to the question "Does our work really matter?" requires another question, a prefatory query to start each day: "What can I do this morning to ensure that my work today really matters?" Perhaps the answer is "play with my kids." Maybe the answer is "prepare breakfast in bed for my spouse." Or "pray." Maybe the answer has nothing to do with work per se. Maybe the answer is found in gratitude.

Gratitude is the true lens of perspective, and the essential key to our spiritual auto-immune systems. Gratitude is also an early casualty of all addiction. Nature abhors a vacuum: Deprivation ascends in the absence of gratitude like an opportunistic disease. Addicts can never get enough.

The best way to bring honor to our work is to honor our time away from work. Do something every day to show gratitude for the people, things, institutions, and challenges that contribute to the quality of your life.

Honor them with your time. Say the heartfelt things typically left unsaid. Our work matters, but only when kept in perspective.

Many thanks, as always, for your gracious time, dear reader. Best to you and yours...

Please note: The Einstein's Corner discussion group at http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/einsteinscorner/ is dedicated to exploring the adverse effects of our addictions to technology and media on the quality of our lives, both at work and at home. Please feel free to drop by and join the discussion.

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