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If a ‘break’ is what we need

 If a ‘break’ is what we need  ING-041
13 October 2023

We are always in a rush and at the same time perpetually running late. We want everything and immediately, but we never seem satisfied. One of the evils of our time is undoubtedly the spasmodic acceleration of our daily actions (at least in industrialized countries). Twenty years ago, psychiatrist Vittorino Andreoli, said that “rushing is the imperative of contemporary society”. And things have certainly not improved since then. In 2015 French philosopher Jean-Paul Galibert coined the term chronophagia to define one of the distinctive traits of turbo capitalism, which literally “eats away at our time”.

Paradoxically, we have technological tools that are ever more powerful and exponentially shorten the time required to solve our problems (e.g., artificial intelligence), and yet there is the feeling that we are always chasing after something, of being inevitably one step behind with respect to the plan we had made for ourselves.

It is no coincidence that one of the sentences we most often use throughout our day is: “I don’t have time”. But we have to find this time, especially to find ourselves again. If not, we will only live “liquid” lives — to quote the title of a book by Zygmunt Bauman — but lives that are inexorably unsatisfied. Indeed, if the “now” is the only parameter when it comes to judging our lives, we will not be able to taste the flavour of past experiences, or grasp the meaning of the journey before us.

Bauman is one of the thinkers who researched the consequences of this liquidity of time and its dangerous loss of meaning. In recent years, he has often been associated with Pope Francis’s reflections on the contemporary. It is interesting to reread — after the Pope’s words at the opening of the Synod where he spoke of the Church’s need to slow down for some time, to take a break and to listen — what Bauman wrote at the beginning of his book, “The Art of Life”. The Polish sociologist developed his reflection from a question on happiness. A question, he explained, to cause us to pause and reflect. A pause in the search for happiness, which, he says, is what we spend most of our time thinking about.

To pause, as the Synod experience tells us, is truly what we need as an antidote to the tyranny of the ephemeral and to the culture of rushing — to quote Stephen Bertman — that prevents us from observing the world and even of looking at ourselves. A rushing that wraps around itself and is quite different from Mary’s haste, which as the Pope has often said, was haste to serve, a haste that “drives us always upwards and towards others”. A pause to make room for relationships, for affections, essentially, for people. Wasting time to be with others is in fact the greatest gain that time itself can offer us.

Alessandro Gisotti