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Moving beyond the culture of busy

| Tuesday, August 24, 2021

As the year opens at Our Lady’s University, with undergrads returning to the dorms and giving their “Notre Dame introductions,” law students like myself cracking open our casebooks in hopes of not bombing a cold call and campus bustling with activity once again, I am ever cognizant of the presence of God on this campus. And when I think of what it means to be somewhere like this, where everything around you reassures you that God is present here, I am reminded of Christ’s Greatest Commandment: love God; love neighbor. Why? Because during my first year of law school, I identified a social phenomenon that is particularly concerning. I present to you: the Culture of Busy. 

The Culture of Busy is essentially this idea that people either have license to be or should be too “busy” to be intentional about seeking out and establishing community. It didn’t help that we were in the throes of a global pandemic; upperclassmen would tell of the multitude of opportunities for spontaneous in-person contact that last year almost always had to be planned, and it’s much easier to avoid people if we have to reach out to them to connect in the first place.

That said, the Culture of Busy isn’t a COVID-19 problem. It hits deeper than that. It’s especially pervasive in law school, though it’s not exclusively a law school problem either. Despite the actual busyness I’ve seen my fellow Notre Dame students grapple with during the school year, I proffer that we do a better job at dodging it than most. That said, we’re not immune from the Culture of Busy, and as much as face masks have helped us stop the spread of COVID-19, they don’t filter out the toxic fumes of the aftereffects of Culture-of-Busy-21.

“But Devin, what does this ‘Culture of Busy’ you’ve decided to write a Viewpoint column about look like?” Glad you asked! Symptoms include:

1. The feeling that your public face needs to be that you don’t have time for other people.

2. The idea that work or school is always a valid excuse to avoid personal interaction with family or friends.

3. The idea that you should feel guilty if you don’t actually have any work or school to do, even if you do want to interact with people.

Lies the Culture of Busy makes us believe:

1. If you have time to spend with other people, you aren’t working hard enough.

2. If you end up spending time with other people, they should apologize for taking up your time.

3. If you decide that time should be spent on things that are not work or school, you should be  budgeting it down to the minute, for all such time spent is a net burden.

4. If you don’t buy into numbers 1-3, people will think you undervalue your time and they may feel justified in taking advantage of you. 

I write to point out this phenomenon not because I think I’m immune to it. Last year, I caught myself, at times, taking actions that reeked of the Culture of Busy in my own life. But I’ve become aware of the existence of this social problem through my interactions on the day-to-day, and I truly believe that the only way to fight it is to raise awareness and find those among us that agree that this is a problem.  Unlike many awareness raising campaigns, which come dangerously close to virtue signaling, it is my strong belief that raising awareness of the Culture of Busy may have a concrete impact: Awareness of  the Culture of Busy begets avoidance of the Culture of Busy.

All of this having been said, there is one other risk factor which needs to be addressed: I possess a multitude of privileges which end up helping to keep the Culture of Busy at bay for me. For those who  find themselves in that same boat, I challenge you to remember the obligation we have to help alleviate  the Culture of Busy in the ways that it drags others down. In my humble opinion, our best vaccine against this ever-present Culture-of-Busy plague is given to us by Christ himself: love God; love neighbor. 

As this school year begins and Notre Dame welcomes her students back to campus, I have only this to  say:

Go Irish! Beat Culture of Busy! 

Devin is a member of Notre Dame Law School’s Class of 2023. Originally from Farwell, Michigan, he is a 2020 graduate of Michigan State University’s James Madison College. In addition to serving as a teaching assistant at the law school, in his free time, he sings with the Notre Dame Folk Choir and discusses the legal developments of the day with anyone who will listen. He can be reached at [email protected] or @DevinJHumphreys on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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