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  • Kelly Marks

In the Name of Efficiency

Waste not, want not. That’s an old-time aphorism that basically means you use what you have and don’t waste it. Then when you need something you will have it. It used to be quoted more frequently than it is now in our current throw-away society. But during the pandemic Paul and I took it very seriously about not wasting what we were paying for Netflix. We made sure we got our money’s worth.


One night we watched a drama/history called The Founder. It was the true story of how McDonalds came to be. When the show was over it was a little after 11:00 at night. Paul left the room for a minute, and when he returned he was putting on his shoes. “I’m going to McDonalds,” he announced. “What do you want?”


I felt like we should let some real adults know so they could at least give us disapproving looks. That’s the way spontaneity always feels if you’re doing it right; like you’re doing something you shouldn’t, like you’re getting away with something.


In her book Good Enough, Kate Bowler talks about something called “hyper-instrumentalization”. It’s an obsession with use, with practicality. If we have a hobby but it’s not providing an income or some other such use, it is deemed worthless. Could this have been spawned from the American work ethic? Work longer hours; work faster; work harder. Spontaneity seems to be the enemy of this efficiency and utility, and yet some say it's the cure.


But speaking of spontaneity, what about doing something for the sheer joy of it? The last spontaneous thing I did was test drive a 2-story bouncy house slide. I jumped in line behind a 6-year-old and had a ball. Before that? I don’t even remember.


American essayist Wendell Berry says, “every day do something that won’t compute.” Every day? Definitely a goal, but I am so far away. I think I’d be happy doing something spontaneous once a week even.


Following this idea of hyper-instrumentalization, in the Tao, it talks about this same usefulness. The explanation explains how focused we get on work; we cut out play to be more efficient, to be more useful, but then we get burned out and less efficient. To be rejuvenated we must “move to the opposite pole”.


It made sense I guess, but the example that followed gave me an aha-moment. The book explained that sleep must be a waste of time because what is its use? If you live to be 90 years old, you will have slept for 30 years, and what usefulness do you have to show for it?


But… “at the end of the whole day’s work, when you fall asleep you move from the useful to the useless. And that is why in the morning you feel so fresh, so alive, so unburdened.”


I long to feel fresh, alive, and unburdened throughout my days, weeks, years, lifetime. Therefore, in the name of feeling my best while also gaining efficiency and usefulness, my goal is more spontaneity, the useless, things done only for the sheer joy of it. I may not make it, but it'll be a lot of fun trying.


British actor Stephen Fry once said, “It is the useless things that make life worth living and that make life dangerous too: wine, love, art, beauty. Without them life is safe, but not worth bothering with."


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