We are plagued by an economics of productivity. The tangible, measurable outputs of your daily grind are what earn you that paycheque at the end of the week. They might consist of that car at the end of the production line or the quarterly report you successfully number-crunched into meaning.
While these results are undoubtedly worthy of reward and are needed to maintain a semblance of stability in our shaky economic ecosystem, they have displaced thought. That seemingly simple fundamental task is remarkably absent from so much of what we do.
Surely George Orwell would scold us for our indifference to thought after he painstakingly taught us to value free thinking in his dystopian fiction Nineteen-eighty-fourwherein citizens are robbed of the freedom of thought by the omniscient Big Brother. Any thought which opposed or doubts the ruling party was deemed thoughtcrime. “Thoughtcrime does not entail death: thoughtcrime is death.” – George Orwell, 1984, Book 1, Chapter 2
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Our thoughtcrime is not that we seek resistance but rather that we submit ourselves unquestioningly to thoughtless productivity.
We toil away hours on end to make sure the work is done, the house is clean and the kids are fed but we do so many of these things unthinkingly – robotically moving from one task to the next.
Thought is time-consuming and its yields often go unspoken.
I lament the loss of thought. Working in a university environment I am surrounded by students eagerly detangling complicated theories and testing the limits of the academic cannon with their own. Despite my proximity I am often precluded from partaking in their tenacious exploration of thought as I am resigned to my desk and its innumerable concomitant tasks.
In university so much of our time is dedicated to honing our ability to think, to do so critically and unflinchingly. Yet it seems that once we take our leave of the ivory tower we are cast out into a working world where productivity is measured by units sold and as such, our creativity is often constrained by the bureaucratic straitjacket.
As I’m sure you’ll recall, in university, with a preponderance of thinking came a healthy diet of reading. The two go hand-in-hand and yet we are rarely afforded time to either in any substantial measure in the working world (except for those who work in the academy I suspect).
Sitting at your desk deep in thought might not be considered time well-spent by your superiors but I argue that it should be! The contributions or revisions you might be able to make to your workplace as a direct result of that reverie might be earth-shattering, or they might just be hapless musings but how will we ever innovate or make change if we insist on forgoing thought in the interest of productivity?
I read on my own time because it offers a brief reprieve from the unthinking. My mind is allowed to wander and get lost. There is no measurable output apart from my own cerebral enrichment.
I love this book club because its filled with young women with a unique proclivity for thought. I often find myself pushed to new limits and forced to discover new perspectives when I’m in the company of these wonderful women.
Why do you read? What do you get out of it? How can we reframe ‘just thinking’ into a valued and legitimate component of our work? Or do you feel that you are already encouraged to think often and aimlessly in your workplace?