There’s a new phenomenon that’s becoming more and more prevalent in my circles in Jerusalem. Okay, maybe it’s not new. Maybe it’s always existed but I’ve just never noticed because it only hits you once you hit a certain age – the age when you and your peer group have to simultaneously juggle school/work plus dating/marriage. If that’s the case, I’ve finally arrived. Because lately, this phenomenon has been hitting me in the face waaay too often.
What am I talking about?
Yes, busyness. It’s the overwhelming common factor among all types of people aged twenty and up; whether you’re religious or secular, introverted or extroverted, Anglo or Israeli, making lots of money or struggling to get by – you are busy.
It used to be that when I’d ask someone how they were, the response would be, “Good,” or “Okay.” Now, the response is “Busy,” and is accompanied by a half grin/half grimace meant to convey exasperation accompanied by some sort of inner satisfaction.
Because let’s face it – “busy” is simultaneously a complaint and a boast. It’s a complaint in that people really are tired, or don’t have enough time to do everything they want to do. But it’s a boast too – it blows people up with self-importance, makes them feel needed, in demand, essential. It gives them purpose – which is in itself purposeful.
Isn’t that why we have those competitive conversations with friends? You know, the ones in which we try to one-up the other’s busyness? “I was running around all day and didn’t get home till midnight. I’m so exhausted!” “Well, I’ve been up since six in the morning, didn’t have time to go to the bathroom in between meetings at work, then I had to go food shopping because I’m making a Shabbat meal, and then I had an engagement party to go to!”
Of course, it’s much better to be busy than bored (see The “Busy” Trap http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/30/the-busy-trap/?smid=tw-share). And to the credit of many people I know, they choose to fill their days with rewarding busyness, whether it’s volunteering, earning a living, spending time with friends, or a combination of them all. In Israel especially, busyness abounds, as many people need to work three jobs just to stay out of minus!
The problem is that even when our time is being put to good use, being “busy” has become the ultimate excuse. It’s become a word that is meant to convey a wide spectrum of activity which no one but the person experiencing it can fathom – but in actuality means a big bunch of nothing.
For example, you say to your friend, “I called you three times yesterday, why didn’t you call me back?”
Response: “I’m sorry, I’ve just been so busy.”
Really? You were too busy to return the phone call of a friend who called three times? (Three times generally signifying importance.) But I saw you posting on Facebook the whole day! (Thank you, FB, nothing is private anymore!)
And yet, we hide our incredulity. Instead, the response of, “I’m sorry, I’ve just been so busy” has become socially accepted. Whether it’s coming from a friend, acquaintance or coworker, we do not contest it or protest it; we keep quiet and accept this excuse because we know that we too, might want to avail ourselves of it at some point.
But the fact is that, when used copiously, the excuse of “I’m busy” is just a euphemism for: “You’re not important enough for me to respond to. You’re not one of my priorities.”
Now listen. I understand priorities. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I return everyone’s phone call within the hour. I have a baby girl to take care of at home and am nearing the end of my second pregnancy in this sweltering summer heat. (See, there it is, my competitive complaint/boast.) And because I have a very limited amount of energy, I need to prioritize. So yes, my daughter and husband come first. And when I’m running after my pudgy bundle of cuteness trying to make sure she doesn’t eat wires and turn my laptop keyboard into her own personal drum set, I really am too busy to talk on the phone. (Imagine mothers with two, three, four kids, dear God!)
So I understand not calling someone back right away. We all need to set priorities for ourselves.
But it’s the people who aren’t juggling multiple children and a household, who are so consumed by work and school and self, who disappoint me. Because among those of us with one kid or less, who is really too busy to return an email or an SMS? (Emergencies, health issues and all other exceptional situations excluded.)
I’m being harsh, you say? Maybe. After all, just because I can juggle certain things doesn’t mean that everyone else can.
True. The many technological options we have of getting in touch with each other have also created many opportunities for feeling ignored. But the reality is, people really do have things to do! Plus, they might be sick, in chul or somewhere where there’s no reception. They might have accidentally deleted the email, or read it and forgot to respond – hey, we’re all human.
And besides, who wants to be available all the time? Sometimes, we need a quiet evening away from all the virtual hubbub.
And in these situations, it’s up to me to exercise my dan l’kaf zechut muscle and cut people some slack.
But not when it happens consistently. Not when you are that person who everyone knows doesn’t return calls. Who doesn’t answer emails. Who needs to be chased when someone needs something from you but calls back pronto when you need something from someone else.
Even though you may actually be busy. You may be working ten hour days, traveling from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv and back, contending with family issues, making time for friends and Facebook and cooking and writing and everything else under the sun – but guess what? EVERYONE is busy. EVERYONE has a million things to do and not enough time in the day to do them. And yet, some people manage to be considerate and others don’t.
Because let’s call a spade a spade. It’s plain inconsiderate to consistently ignore emails. To not call back if you get three missed phone calls from the same person in one day. To not respond to my FB message when I can see before my eyes that you’ve been posting other stuff on FB all day. And to think it’s okay to be that person because you’re so busy? Self-delusion.