Modern mantra: “I’m too busy”

How many times have you used “I’m too busy” as an excuse not to do something?

I do. Rather a lot, actually. It’s the modern mantra, THE excuse that many of us use to explain why we can’t get involved in this or that.

And “this or that” might entail maintaining meaningful relationships with family and friends, helping with worthy community events, or staying physically fit.

So, when we look at the world of work and its kaleidoscope of jobs and careers, it’s no wonder that we see a blossoming of professions such as massage therapists, reiki practitioners… and time- and stress-management consultants.

As we hurtle through our modern lives, we feel stress. In fact, most people today seem to think that they are more stressed than ever. We hear this word “stress” in all forms of media - in sitcoms through to scientific journals. And with women in the workforce, women possess increasing work equity - yet home work with its child-rearing as well as home-management needs haven’t lessened. Sure it’s challenging as couples readjust their notions of life together and apart.

But don’t we overuse this word “stress”?

Actually, to think of Canadians being “stressed” in this time of our country’s history amuses me just a bit.

Why? Because my generation of baby boomers has never experienced war - yet we’re the ones bleating about stress. But how can you and I even think we’re living in the most-stressful times ever? Try living through a civil or other war where lives are at risk. Now, that’s “stress,” it seems to me.

Canadian boomers have never experienced war in our times. We’re not living in the former Yugoslavia or in a refugee camp where chaos and depression reign.

Instead we are living in a country of limitless opportunity wherein individual rights and freedoms are arguably the best in the world. We have excellent quality of life here in Canada; we can speak our minds freely or write books on any topic; women can vote and can hold positions of power; we are increasingly recognizing First Nations peoples’ rights and land treaties are in progress across the nation… Canada is a country to be proud of, as we struggle with the issue of rights and freedoms for our diverse peoples.

In this vast pool of human “ethnic origins” we Canadians are hewing a peaceful approach to the thorny issue of rights. As author Michael Ignatieff commented in his interview on This Morning (CBC Radio’s July 16 re-broadcast of a November 2000 interview), there are over 70 mother tongues spoken in Toronto, yet these diverse Canadian immigrants are finding a way to get along together in that metropolis.

Ignatieff spoke of Canadians’ existential angst, referring to our perhaps quintessentially Canadian concern for the future of our country: will it exist, we fret, in the years to come? He noted that it’s not just a romantic dream that holds us together; instead, he maintains that the glue that defines Canada is our respect for and continual development of rights for individuals and groups.

And he made what I thought was an intriguing point: as soon as the issue of rights are mentioned, conversation becomes heated. Rights are extraordinarily individual: we all feel we have a right to do this and that. And when you extrapolate this to community, ethnic groups, First Nations, municipalities, provinces… or whatever group you can think of, the issue of who has a right to do what becomes spicily contentious. Yet somehow we are a peaceable kingdom.

Ignatieff commented that Canadians are world leaders in demonstrating how politically diverse groups can live together without civil war. Yes there can be rancor, yes there are dramatically diverse opinions… but somehow we are able to compassionately fence sit, take a second breath to contemplate the other side of the coin.

Here in the Pontiac, we have just as much a “boiling pot” of politics and environmental issues to concern ourselves with, and equally as many politically contentious issues.

But life here jogs along. In the Pontiac, as in the rest of Canada, we have a good life and generally speaking, we get along well. It’s not a Third World existence as some mutter. No: it’s a place of opportunity, of potential, and complex, multi-layered challenges which we work through, pretty peaceably.

The words “work through” are key though, aren’t they? Working through issues means that individuals from a variety of backgrounds and philosophies help to resolve problems, create opportunities, assist with community happenings.

So are we honestly too stressed-out to get involved? Are we really too busy to help our neighbours with community events?

Think about it. If you are on the board or otherwise helping to plan a community event, do you feel as if no-one ever steps forward to get involved? Are you hassled with the amount of work you need to do in order to make an event happen?

A solution to these and similar concerns is not to think for an instant that you are alone. Ask for help, delegate responsibility, plan social events so that workers also have fun together - and do your forward-planning so that planning for next year’s event starts soon after this year’s event.

Are you too busy to do this? Are people you’re hoping might get involved (whether it be running for office or painting a fence) muttering, “I’m too busy?”

Well, guess what: We’re all “too busy.” Really, we’re talking about our personal perspective and priorities.

Perhaps it’s time for us to reassess what we do have time to do, so as to help our community prosper.

And maybe someone here should offer a time- or stress-management course!

Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer based near Quyon. Contact her at