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Jewish World Review April 16, 2003 / 14 Nisan 5763

Bill Tammeus

Bill Tammeus
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Worries of Iraq, illiteracy and the Cubs --- frazzled lives sabotage us

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | The congregation at my church is talking about how to spend money we commit to causes outside our walls.

We are asking whether we should give a few bucks to a bazillion different agencies or give more significant amounts of money to fewer efforts. We're deciding how we decide what groups to support. Do agencies with religious purposes in harmony with our own theology get priority? Do we put money only where our members also volunteer?

It's a useful exercise. But it makes me wish I had a built-in mechanism for deciding what to worry about and how to spend my limited time trying to fix what I think is wrong with the world.

The reality, however, is that most of us are multitasking. We are ineffective in many areas because we worry about much more than we can do anything about. Our efforts are diffused. We drown in information. We know a little about a lot of things. Eventually we may know nothing about everything. How useful.

At the moment I don't know how to solve this, but I can at least describe the scope of the problem. Even as I write this, I'm worrying about the Iraq war and its aftermath, partly because I need to stay up with developments so I can write editorials and columns about it. And things change every few minutes.

For similar reasons, the economy distresses me. Will it continue to widen the divide between the haves and have-nots? Will people be able to pursue their dreams? Will it recover enough for me to retire when I want to?

I'm anxious about our political system. Voter turnout for recent local elections was shameful, even as American men and women in uniform risked their lives on freedom's behalf. What's going on? How can so many citizens abandon their core civic duty, which countless Americans have died to protect? It's an outrage.

As an AIDS volunteer, I continue to fret about this crisis, both in this country and Africa. How many more people must die?

Relentless racism and race antagonism in our culture cause me angst. I also worry about people who abuse drugs and alcohol. The homeless and desperately poor grab at my heart. Illiteracy, obesity and mental illness all cause me to think I should be doing something more about them. Same with all the people our schools are failing - and vice versa. What will become of them? What can I do, if anything, about the epidemic of loneliness in our nursing homes? Will I file my taxes on time? Can I get all my work done?

After 95 years can my Chicago Cubs finally win a World Series? (Not everything spinning through my head is serious, but it still eats up time and energy.)

The list of family members on my mind (often with joy, sometimes with anxiety) is almost endless - a new grand nephew in California, a pregnant niece in Georgia, a stepdaughter and her husband in the Peace Corps in Africa, a newly married daughter here, a happy little granddaughter here, an aging aunt in Chicago, a brother-in-law recouping from heart surgery in Illinois.

We aren't built to live this frazzled way. Our brains are amazing, but instead of arranging our lives so we can think deeply about a few things, we juggle hundreds of things, rarely having time simply to sit and think creatively about any of them.

And it's getting worse. Our cell phones, Palm Pilots, pagers, fax machines, e-mail, TV, radio, global positioning systems and on and on are speeding up the pace at which we live. It's as if call-waiting is constantly beeping in our ears, both at home and at work.

The 17th-century French moralist and author Jean de La Bruyere had it right: "Those who make the worst use of their time are the first to complain of its shortness."

The very reason time seems short is because we make the worst use of it. We take on so much that what we do often lacks quality. We say yes to too many activities. And when we get a chance to catch our breath, we often don't do it in creative ways that refill us. Rather, we sit passively in front of "Survivor" or "Married by America."

If we fail to simplify our lives, they will disintegrate into meaninglessness.

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JWR contributor Bill Tammeus' latest book is "A Gift of Meaning." To order it, please click on title. To comment on his column, please click here.


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05/01/01: Dubya reinforcing negative GOP stereotypes?

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