Fighting For The Right To Be Slow

I love listening to podcasts and while looking for some new ones, I recently noticed a facility on my podcast app where you can ‘speed listen’. I presume that the objective of this is that the faster you listen, the more you consume, the more productive/better/faster you will be in your own life and this sounds like it could work well — if that’s how you want to engage with such things.

However, if this is speed listening, then I would infinitely prefer my listening to be ‘slow’.

The truth is that I don’t want to just listen to more ‘stuff’ as fast as possible. I want to engage and connect with what I’m listening to and I don’t want or even need to do this quickly as I’m in no rush. I learn much better and enjoy things much more if I can do things in my own time and at my own speed. At first, I thought that this might be an age thing in that I recently hit 50 and prefer to take things more slowly and in a more quality versus quantity type way. However, on reflection, I think I may have always been like that.

Speed listening to a podcast for me would be like speed listening to my favourite music. You technically hear it, but it would mean absolutely nothing as the emotional content and subtleties would totally pass you by, eliminating any communication the writer/musician intended.

In recent years, concepts such as mindfulness, activities such as tai-chi and organisations such as the Slow Movement promote a slower, more deliberate and more conscious awareness of what you are doing, thinking and saying and this has now become mainstream in our society.

I want to be productive and get things done as much as anybody, however like the Slow Movement, it’s becoming more and more imperative for me that these things have the same level of ‘slow quality’ criteria attached to them.

Otherwise, I’m literally just ticking things off lists and in doing so, I’d only be scratching the surface of what I want to achieve in my life as opposed to genuinely and authentically moving forward.

“The Slow philosophy is a cultural revolution against the notion that faster is always better. It isn’t about doing everything at a snail’s pace. It’s about seeking to do everything at the right speed. Savoring the hours and minutes rather than just counting them. Doing everything as well as possible, instead of as fast as possible. It’s about quality over quantity in everything from work to food to parenting” from ‘In Praise Of Slow’ by Carl Honoré

‘Savouring the hours and minutes rather than just counting them.’ Exactly!

This sense of quantity being superior to quality is still so prevalent in our society. Some of it is superficial such as bigger cars, higher status jobs and having more money and some less quantifiable such as creativity. How do you measure that? They must be a good artist because their work sells for X millions? Or they’ve written 20 best-sellers so they must be incredible writers? Don’t get me wrong, sometimes they are ‘good’, however, churning out work is not the same as creating work with meaning.

Some people can achieve both — for example, Prince’s albums in the 80s and Stevie Wonder’s albums in the 70s managed to be both numerous, incredible and commercially successful. But let’s face it, none of us are Prince nor Stevie at their peak and even they could only manage it for a few years!

If you define success in numbers, then good luck to you and yes, being able to live a mortgage-free life for example is a good thing. Of course it is, however…

Pretty numbers are one definition of success. They shouldn’t be the primary definition. Real success is about meaning.

One of my favourite bands is the Blue Nile from Glasgow, Scotland. When. they were together, they only released 4 albums in 20 years and these days, very few people have heard of them, but every album they made was only released when they felt it was ready and the best that they could create. Some would call their career a disaster commercially, however there are many others (myself included) who see them as an inspiration as perhaps, one of the ‘slowest’ bands ever. Each release was considered and always, a measure of quality and perhaps most importantly, it had ‘meaning’ to them and their listeners.

The more you produce, the more you produce. That’s it. It isn’t necessarily better because your output is higher than others.

The increasing prominence of mindfulness and minimalism in recent years has shown how people are looking for more meaning in their lives. People like Joshua Becker, Marie Kondo and the Minimalists talk about the importance of space and the meaning of what we have as opposed to what we don’t.

We don’t need more. We just need to appreciate what we have.

Why do you do what you do? What’s the point? Is it just to get more fans/likes/followers and feel popular? Or does what you create have meaning? Do you have to say it so badly that it will hurt if you don’t?

I’ve written hundreds of songs over the years and I like to think some are really good, but I remember ‘churning them out’ when I was younger but then it was about practice. About learning what to do and what not to do. Now I write fewer finished songs, but for me at least, each has more quality and meaning.

Of course, I accept that this is quite an idealistic way of looking at things and sometimes, life, work and reality can get in the way of such idealism, however it doesn’t have to eradicate it completely. Like many things in life, we can find our own balance. But I like to think that the meaning we are looking for can be our motivation.

But remember that slow doesn’t have to be ‘slow’.

“Being slow means that you control the rhythms of your own life. You decide how fast you have to go in any context. If today I want to go fast, I go fast. If tomorrow I want to go slow, I go slow. What we are fighting for is the right to determine our own tempos” — Carlo Petrini, Slow Food Movement

Whatever I’m doing, whether it’s listening to podcasts, cooking, reading, songwriting or just being, I’d highly recommend doing it ‘slowly’.

And if you want some tips on ‘slowness’, read ‘How To Be Slow’

Photo by Aiony Haust on Unsplash

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