The Problem With Broad Editorials That Everyone Reads

As it is known to do, the New Yorks Times recently published an eloquent opinion piece. The topic was “the busy trap”. Those who run around lamenting (bragging) how much they have to do in their cluttered little days, the argument went, are more often than not just dealing with self-imposed schedules and would do themselves a favor if they recognized this and shut up about it and took the proper steps to create some Me Time.

“Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day,” writes Tim Kreider. (He, of course, makes an exception for people with three jobs fighting to make ends meet.)

This is the hammer meeting the nail and categorizing busyness as “a hedge against emptiness” no doubt gave a lot of folks a big fat pause and will make them hesitate before lamenting (bragging) in the future — and perhaps drop a few items from their schedule. It’s a point that probably resonated most on the coasts (and with Times readers) and, predictably, the piece caught fire on the wires, clogging Facebook, Twitter and inboxes, along with drawing hundreds comments on the article itself.

But in a lot of ways, I think that this actually doesn’t foster a healthy discussion, but hijacks it. The opinion pieces that go viral across the demographic matrix, as this piece did, cover the ideas everyone already ponders or discusses. They examine the obvious gears of society. It’s not like he made an argument on the nuances of the capital gains tax. He talked about work-life balance. Fairness, internet addiction, acknowledging death, cell phone etiquette, the beauty of life, all resonate for obvious reasons. When a writer finds the words (and soapbox) we’d always wanted, we want to propagate the message because we feel like we own a little part of the piece. Language — not recognition — had limited our expression and now someone unchained those words.

But how hard is it to see that someone’s — or your own — stress and “busyness” is self-induced? It’s an important topic, but what did we actually learn? Nothing new came to the table. Kreider argues something that any hard-working person knows and feels. He just does so extremely well and under the banner of the New York Times. So we read it and say, “Yes! Thank you, Grey Lady! To the Facebook-mobile!”

The greatest influence on someone is their peers. People change because of a friend’s advice or behavior. But when someone does not want to change their ways — as most of are wont to do — they’ll look for a loophole. And here’s the catch. With other op-eds with embedded personal advice, the next time you point out to a friend that their suffocating schedule is self-imposed, they’ll just roll their eyes and give a retort all too familiar with Times readers:

“Yeah, I read that article too.”

And the discussion ends. Your opinion has been sourced. Because its followed with an implicit,

“So be quiet. It’s not your opinion you’re preaching, it’s some other dude’s (– and I’m going to keep right on with my busy schedule).”

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2 Responses to The Problem With Broad Editorials That Everyone Reads

  1. Jon M says:

    It’s a good point of view. As a person who did read/share that article, it’s good to have a 50,000 ft view of pattern some of us are not knowingly engaging in. Where I do think the NYT author missed the point in that article is the need for mental occupation (not stimulation) – and not necessarily busyness. White noise for sleeping, music in parking garages, and, of course, everyone’s favorite villains: cell phones and TV. Nobody gets bored anymore because many are afraid of it.

    Broad editorials are nothing new. All of our opinions are sourced which is why people love talk radio and FOX news has been able to turn the movie Network into a viable business model: many people want someone to have their opinions for them. The NYT article at least did us the courtesy of opening a dialog.

  2. John W. says:

    As usual, you can only learn what you can see, and you can only see what isn’t so scary that it threatens the picture of yourself you have worked so hard to create.

    Anything that can get you to see a bigger picture is constructive. If you dismiss it, it’s probably because it is threatening you in some fundamental way.

    I think it’s important to talk about how we distract ourselves from the emptiness of our lives by flitting from activity to activity. I think it says more about us than about the idea if we dismiss it as trivial and banal merely because it is widely disseminated.

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