We want to be efficient, right? Efficient means we are smart, not wasting any precious effort, getting on to our next important task as quickly as possible. Our culture is built on efficiency.
But does efficiency make us rich in what matters?
Let’s start with physicality. How do our bodies respond to the Efficiency Directive? My commute involves bicycling a few mornings a week to my carpool partner’s house. I pedal my heavy, inexpensive bike up the hill of Mount Tabor, breathing hard, thighs burning. A guy with a light, pricey bike zips past me. He’s climbing the hill efficiently. But I’m getting the better workout. The point of exercise is to work hard, not to minimize the work by being efficient.
While we’re on the subject of bodies, how about efficiency in lovemaking? The joy of a quickie notwithstanding, do we want our lover to be as efficient as possible? No. Lovemaking works better with a languorous approach, in which we let the here and now expand, rather than be compacted. Watching the clock doesn’t work.
Let’s look at extracting the earth’s resources. ExxonMobil and its competitors are extremely efficient at extracting fossil fuels, refining and transporting them so they can be burned. In fact, ExxonMobil was the most profitable company in the U.S. the last time I looked. Efficient fossil fuel extraction makes some people very dollar-rich. But it has also created climate change, probably the greatest threat to civilization that humanity has yet faced. Not a good endorsement here for the Efficiency Directive.
Then there’s spirituality. When we pray or meditate, we are courting the presence of God. Like a lover, God doesn’t respond well to being rushed. My minister Tim tells me that in writing a sermon, his goal is actually to be inefficient. The sermon-writing process brings him closer to God. Why would he court efficiency, rather than his Creator?
There are definitely times and places that our culture’s Efficiency Directive works well. Putting out fires, cleaning up poop, and performing surgeries are all good things to do efficiently. And the efficient automation that has replaced brutal manual labor, the kind that breaks people’s bodies down, is a good thing.
But adopting the Efficiency Directive blindly, the way we tend to do in our culture, can make us poor in the things that matter most. It can block our spirituality and our closeness to loved ones. It leads us to abuse the earth’s resources, rather than steward them. Our efficiency-driven aversion to physical activity has created sitting disease and our obesity epidemic. In my own life I take a critical, diamond-cut eye to our culture’s pressure to be efficient.
Over to you: how do you experience the Efficiency Directive? When do you find that efficiency makes you poorer, or richer, in what matters most to you?