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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Is speed always conducive to human happiness?

Ever since the Industrial Revolution, people’s lives have been moving faster and faster. Today we can travel around the globe in a matter of hours, talk across continents over the telephone, follow on television what is going on in the farthest corners of the world, and work out millions of calculations per second on computers. Our ancestors would stare in awe if they saw us now, and many of us would loudly boast of the tremendous progress we have made since their time in every walk of life. – And yet there is a growing feeling among many thoughtful people that all things have not changed for the better: that life does not become happier or more satisfying if we simply do things faster than our forefathers.

Most of us prefer driving cars to cycling or walking because cars are faster. But we rarely pause to ask ourselves whether we always need to move about so fast, and we forget that greater speeds greatly increase the risk of death or crippling injury on the road. Also, that cycling and walking cost little, keep us fit and do not pollute the atmosphere. Why does the average man need to move so fast? Alexander and Hiuen Tsang travelled on foot, but they achieved in a few years much more than today’s common man will do in his lifetime, and Gandhiji, travelling on foot or by train, saw more of India more closely than today’s prime ministers do from their aeroplanes!

In education today, many parents and teachers are trying to cram little children’s minds with more information than they ever acquired until they were adults, not realizing that there is a limit to what cramming can do. The more children learn by rote the less they understand, the more they forget, and the more they hate learning. As a result we now have millions of young people who cannot or do not want to remember even what they learnt last year, while their grandparents can happily recall what they were taught fifty years ago! You cannot speed up the pace of education indefinitely without spoiling it.

People keep saying that because it is a ‘fast life’ full of hurry, worry and activity, they have no time to spare for loved ones any more. And so more and more people, especially children, housewives, the old and the ill are feeling neglected, frustrated and terribly lonely. Families are breaking up, crime and juvenile delinquency are rising, love and romance are vanishing from human lives, TV-addiction, drug abuse and suicide are becoming widespread. Even as luxuries, amusements and gadgets of convenience multiply and we become more prosperous, it is strange to see more people complaining of unhappiness than ever before. The reason is not hard to find. Mere material prosperity cannot make people happy – they need time to enjoy their possessions and privileges, and an excess of speed, by robbing them of time, can make life unbearable.

Much of the most important work in life cannot be done in a hurry. You need time and patience to cure a sick man, not just medicines. Rearing a child, reading a good book, learning a serious skill or making a garden – they all take time, lots of it. Some of the most marvellous things in this world would never have been created if people had always been in a tearing hurry. The Taj Mahal would not have been built, the Oxford Dictionary never compiled, the electric bulb never invented: they all took many, many years of slow and patient labour to see the light of day. In many ways our lives are rich and full today because we are enjoying the fruits of the long and loving labours of our ancestors. If we want to enjoy our lives more, we must learn the virtues of slowness and patience and attention all over again. And if all of us waste our lives in fast living, our descendants might complain that we never did anything really valuable for them!


ABHIK said...

A must for all parents and teachers...to enable them to BE BETTER!

Vaishnavi said...

Dear Sir,

I trust that this is particular blogpost is indeed the one on 'speed' that Ms. Sarkar has mentioned in her comment on your latest blogpost. This is a rather lovely write up Sir, it makes you wonder, why so few people are ready to write rather than SMS even when writing is doubly satisfying; slow cooking of a tomato sauce when you have time and the intensity of flavours in it; not putting off big tomes just because they are big like most people do, do they ever realise that the pleasure a 'Middlemarch' or 'Pickwick Papers' can give cannot be compared to a Chetan Bhagat? Yet these are books to be savoured slowly, if only for their weightiness. Taking the time out to listen to all forty odd minutes of Mozart's 40th Symphony, or MS Subalakshmi's Suprabatham or the wonderful guitar riff in the middle of Metallica's Astronomy; taking the train upto Ooty rather than driving, sitting for a family meal WITHOUT mobile phones.....these are all wonderful pleasures Sir, and while I try in my small way to point these out to as many people as I can, very few take it. I would rather spend my Sunday at home with my friends and cups of Green tea than running amok in the new big mall in the city that everyone somehow MUST visit, but that is just me. Many thanks to Ms. Sarkar for bringing this post to all the readers' notice, I doubt if I would have come across it otherwise.


Shilpi said...

Kind thanks, Vaishnavi, for locating, reading and commenting for Sir's post. This was the one that I was talking about. I always call it "Speed". I'm cheered that my being a persistent, patient stuck recorder worked here...sort of goes with the spirit of the post. Sorry for replying late though.
{You really can address me as Shilpi-di, Vaishnavi; "Ms. Sarkar" from you makes me feel like I'm a la-di-dah alien}

Suvro da, I don't quite know how to explain why I haven't commented on this post in so many years but there's a reason. The part that makes me smile, and every time is what you say about Alexander and Hiuen Tsang walking and achieving what they did...