Does efficiency equal mediocrity?

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Does efficiency equal mediocrity?


Krys Lee

The efficient human wakes up promptly when their alarm clock goes off and does not linger and daydream in bed. They read daily news on the Internet, or if they are more financially fortunate, or less environmentally conscious, a newspaper over breakfast. After showering to a little Chopin, jazz or pop music, the efficient human aims to arrive on time at work or school and is almost never late.

More importantly, the efficient human is defined by the sheer number of activities that fills his or her life. For example, the efficient housewife or house husband may juggle a dozen household or financial duties, but they also belong to an investment club or two, a few active alumni associations, attend a large church to strike up friendships with people who may someday be useful to know, and are friendly with the local real estate agent, stockbroker, grocer and banker - anything to give their family an advantage.

The diary of the efficient human is packed, which gives them great satisfaction as well as stress because it is evidence that life is productive and therefore meaningful.

The efficient human may not be interesting, but they must at least appear to be. They are learning or keeping up with a foreign language (or two!) and follow the latest film reviews, trending jokes and popular TV shows, not to mention the hot topics of the day in order not to be left out of conversations. They have hobbies, but only ones that offer advancement or improvement, such as skiing, wine tasting or, if possible, travel to exotic foreign countries.

The efficient human is not necessarily a multitasker, but their days are usually productive and nights are invariably active. No lying on the couch night after night reading or watching TV. The evening is time to establish connections with useful people, who find the efficient human pleasant to be around for he or she is versed in politics, history, finance and the arts.

The efficient man measures his time by the hour and the day. He likes words that make him feel slightly uneasy: efficient, productive, busy, deadlines, opportunity. Here are more of his favored words: achievement. awards. publicity. public approval. The efficient man enjoys being recognized. Too much.

When efficient humans get married, they usually end up having a good-looking and engaging wife or husband, two children and a beautiful home.

As a society, we probably need some of these efficient humans to function. But what this busy lifestyle often masks is what actually matters to a person. The efficient human’s passions, ideals, and beliefs are unreadable to the most astute around him or her, and maybe even unreadable to himself. What do they live for beyond achievement? What do they desire outside of a standardized idea of what a desirable life should look like?

For the efficient man, weekdays and weekends are frantic with obligations. People, including his children and himself, are measured by their level of achievement. These efficient humans seem to reproduce like rabbits in urban environments.

Cities create efficient societies, and efficient societies encourage the production and creation of efficiency-aspiring humans.

Much of what is valuable to creation and original thought happens in stillness and is defined by idleness. The examples of such so-called notable people (and not) are countless, and I won’t pander to the desire for lists of names. But what these people know is that you need time to think. Time to feel. Time to be still. To recover from society’s influence through a great deal of retreat.

Being an efficient human equals being a human who belongs to society. To be so heavily involved in society beyond what is already necessary entails adopting the values, lifestyles and attitudes surrounding you. Look at the Korea Coast Guard or members of the Geumsuwon sect surrounding the Sewol ferry tragedy. Look at the National Assembly. Most likely, these people didn’t start life as such myopic and self-serving individuals. We become what we immerse ourselves in, and the efficient human’s values and ideals can only be a mirror of the greater world around us that we more often disparage than praise, that disappoints more often than it delights.

The larger world is the provenance and desire of the buffoon, and the blind leading the blind. The efficient human, so diligent in activity, so mediocre in his thoughts, leads a life of constant activity dedicated to minor achievements and minor notoriety that for most will not be remembered by anyone in a decade, or five, which is a life antithetical to contemplation. I wish it weren’t that way, but history has repeatedly proven this to be true.

Only those who step out and away, or are present but are more observer than central participant, have the capacity to see and help lead us to a world of more justice and more beauty.

*The author, a Korean-American writer whose novel “Drifting House” won the Story Prize Spotlight award in 2012, teaches creative writing at Yonsei University.

BY Krys Lee
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