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I don’t buy the “cult of busyness” argument

McKinley Valentine — 2 min read
I don’t buy the “cult of busyness” argument
Photo by mauro mora / Unsplash

You’ve heard of the cult of busyness, yes? It’s the idea that “busyness” has become a status symbol, and we take on more work for the sake of appearing busy, and brag about how busy we are, and that this has done a lot of damage to the culture, and we need to stop, and say “it’s okay to just take a break and do nothing productive”.

I don’t think this idea is fake, but I think it’s missing a massive piece of the puzzle — especially for something that’s been talked about and thinkpieced to death.

Here’s my theory:

People say they’re “busy” because it’s the only kind of No anyone respects. If you want to convince your boss to work 4 days a week, are you going to say it’s because you want to loaf around and get some rest? Not if you’re smart. You’ll say you have a side project, or family responsibilities.

If a friend or family member asks if you want to visit, and you don’t feel like it, do you feel free to say “I kinda just want a day of nothing”? Or do you say “I’m busy, I’m sorry”. For most people, it’s the latter, and it’s not because you’re bragging and using
”busy” as a status symbol. It’s because people are [sorry but it’s true] weirdly easily offended by someone choosing alone time over socialising with them. See the first article about people taking things personally that aren’t about them.

Not all people, obviously, but often enough that it becomes habit to say you’re “busy”.

So the solution to the cult of busyness probably isn’t just not getting your self worth from how busy you are. It’s also not getting offended when someone doesn’t want to see you but doesn’t have a good reason.

Also, I reckon lying about being busy makes you feel more busy. I know that when I’ve historically called in sick to work when I wasn’t sick [relatedly, forced to lie by workplaces that won’t accept “I’m exhausted, I need a day off to get my brain right”] I kinda end up making myself feel a bit sick. I think if you cancel something because you’re “busy” when you really just need a break, you start to feel a bit hectic and frazzled, to line up with your lie.

Apart from the fact that it will help dismantle a culture of busyness, I think dignity and honesty are linked. Lying to someone is beneath your dignity, and forcing someone to lie to you (because your reactions to the truth are unreasonable) is beneath your dignity. Workplaces that force you to lie are doing something not good to your humanity, I reckon, and friends definitely shouldn’t put you in that position.

But you only get honesty when you have trust (if people are lying to you a lot, that’s actually probably a You-problem, not an Other People-problem.)

So my unsolicited advice is, if you’re not already, be chill when anyone says they don’t want to see you, even if they seem to have free time.

This piece was originally published in The Whippet #108 – subscribe to get the next one in your inbox!

Unsolicited AdviceEQ & Interpersonal


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