Busier than thou

Sometimes I mention something offhanded like, “Oh, sorry, I got busy this weekend with yard work and forgot.” Or “I work full time during the day so I don’t have time to check Facebook or email until the evening after kids are in bed.” My comments spoken with the intent of informing people of when they can expect me to respond to them or complete a task are all too often met with a response something like: “I’m busy too!” or “I work full time too and have 2 small children at home!” or “Must be nice!”

While I’m sure all of us are convinced we would win the busy war if put head to head, I am not sure where this keeping up with the Joneses style busy battle started.

I am a school liasion. I am a room mom. I work. I am working on my dissertation for completion of my Ph.D. I operate a non-profit pet rescue I started. I have two kids, one of whom is on a competitive dance team, gifted, and plays guitar and cello, and the other is a defiant toddler. I am on committees at work. I volunteer with three professional organizations, of which I am a member. I have pets, chickens, and a house. I like to workout and shower daily…but none of that really matters to you. These are my commitments and my schedule and while it is impactful to others, it ultimately only matters to me. And that’s ok.

When I use my commitments to explain something, I am not expecting a “busier than thou” response. I don’t disagree with you that you’re busy too!

Elizabeth Kolbert writes in her article “No Time” for the New Yorker:

One theory she entertains early on is that busyness has acquired social status. The busier you are the more important you seem; thus, people compete to be—or, at least, to appear to be—harried. A researcher she consults at the University of North Dakota, Ann Burnett, has collected five decades’ worth of holiday letters and found that they’ve come to dwell less and less on the blessings of the season and more and more on how jam-packed the previous year has been. Based on this archive, Burnett has concluded that keeping up with the Joneses now means trying to outschedule them. (In one recent letter, a mother boasts of schlepping her kids to so many activities that she drives “a hundred miles a day.”) “There’s a real ‘busier than thou’ attitude,” Burnett says.

How do you respond to the busier than thou responses? Next time you hear from someone about how busy they are, respond with something new. Respond with empathy.