There is a wonderful sketch in Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl where four Yorkshiremen are trying to best each other regarding who survived the most indigent and treacherous childhood. Douglas Coupland referred to a similar phenomenon that occurs at AA meetings as "onedownsmenship."
There is a new game in town in relation to busyness. If you observe conversations closely, does it not seem as if there is some sort of tacit contest regarding who is busier? For instance, you tell a friend that your day was jam-packed with back-to-back meetings, and she tells you that she had to fly the organ-donor helicopter to Santa Inez and back -- twice -- to save two Nobel Prize-winning rocket-scientist twin sisters who both needed kidney transplants?
And you think you had a busy day??
I have noticed that a large percentage of belated email responses I receive include the words "crazy busy" or some derivative thereof in the first two lines. If I were writing in German, crazybusy would already be one word. Of late, I've been on the receiving end of that phrase so many times that I'm certain it will be included as a single word in the next edition of the OED.
Of course the ultimate manifestation of crazybusy -- the emperor's new clothes -- is to not receive any response at all. Those non-responses are from people who are so many clicks beyond crazybusy that they're "overwhelmed," "totally swamped," "crushed," "inundated." And then when your paths casually cross at yoga or Whole Foods or Starbucks, their faces light up as they rush past you exclaiming, "I know I owe you a call. I've been crazybusy. Let's get together next week!"
Granted, through many years of studying and traveling, I've met some pretty high-powered human beings. Yet dear few of the people floating around my orbit have full-time 60 hour per week desk jobs; most of them are self-employed freelancers -- yoga teachers, artists, writers, filmmakers, musicians, therapists and other types of rampant do-gooders.
If I met someone who worked 17 hours per day, seven days per week in the Foxconn factory and he said, "crazybusy," I would understand. If I met someone who was weeks away from finding the cure for leukemia after 20 years in a laboratory and she said, "crazybusy," I would concur. But if you're self-employed, I think the term "crazybusy" is relative.
The problem is that busyness has become part of personal identity, how we get our sense of self. Eleven years ago, David Brooks wrote of the new bohemian bourgeois class nonchalantly trying to gain social status by besting each other with exotic vacation destinations: "Oh you were in Saint Barthes for Christmas? Antigua is so much less scene-y!" I think that busyness is a new status symbol that people use to measure themselves against other people.
When was the last time you heard someone say, "I sat in bed for the last week eating licorice and watching TV," and didn't think he or she must be unwell?
Ever hear the phrase, "I want to be a human being, not a human doing"?
And this is how Yes has become the new No. Because many of us have become human doings. Since the invention of multi-tasking, Descartes' Cogito Ergo Sum could now be translated as, "I'm crazybusy, therefore I am."
And we're all soooooooo crazybusy that we double-book, flake on meetings, cancel at the last minute via email, text important messages that shouldn't be texted (Pregnant! Driving on freeway now! Gotta stop smoking! Sucks! Will call later!), and wield caller ID like Luke Skywalker wielding a lightsaber.
Swoosh! Swoosh! "Oh, Joan's calling... probably just to whinge about her cat's hairball. It can wait. I'll call her back later. Right now I'm crazybusy."
But when crazybusy becomes your way of being in the world, later too often becomes never.
So Yes is the new No because people say "Yes, let's get together next week!" to your face but after sundry emails and texts trying to schedule a place and time to actually meet, they give up and actual human connection flitters away into the ether.
Should I mention personal integrity? Should I mention creating your reality by being your word and showing up when you say you will? I dare not... I dare not...
I recall hearing the phrase many years ago, "On your deathbed your inbox will be full," meaning that there are perpetually things to "do," things we think need to get checked off our ever-growing checklists. We delude ourselves into believing that texting and emailing allow us more time to get things done. And we delude ourselves into believing that we're really connecting with people through these new media -- sans facial expressions, sans smells, sans body language, sans touch, sans eye contact.
Are people living happier and more fulfilling lives since technology has enabled us to "do" more -- or more precisely, to do more things at the same time, and be crazybusy? Or are people increasingly stressed out due to overstimulation, due to being over-connected?
Let's not allow Yes to be the new No, let's make an effort to engage in authentic and compassionate communications. Let's not fool ourselves into thinking that interacting on Facebook or Twitter will help us get our emotional needs met. Let's take out our earbuds when we're in a restaurant or cafe. Let's show up for the human beings in our lives with face-to-face interactions.
Let us stop hiding behind our thumbs and fingers.
The eyes are the windows to the soul. Not the thumbs.
So put down your iPhone, put down your Blackberry, get up from your computer, and make a real connection with a fellow human being today.
Because you don't want your tombstone to read, "Was Crazybusy."