"We're all running a mile a minute, already," was a statement that I heard frequently when I was a young adult. At the time I just couldn't understand where this kind of thinking was coming from.
Now that I'm much older, I've come to realize that this "mile a minute" has been magnified many times. In fact, my own daughter made a telling statement some time back. She said, " We're all on a treadmill and we're running just as fast as we possibly can. We can't slow down because, if we do, we'll get run over. And, we can't stop to help someone else, because if we get off we'll never be able to get back on."
I'm seeing a disturbing trend. Americans simply are running themselves to death. Sadly, we seem to be running backwards and getting further and further away from our goals and reality. Worse, the faster we run, the more vulnerable we're becoming.
It's really simple. We're driven by our own personal goals, some worthy and attainable, some depressingly out of reach. But we're also driven by the incredible necessity to keep up with society and job demands and escalating costs — all of which have spiraled out of control. Many of us are working two and three jobs, just trying to stay even. Those that have jobs are spending easily 60-80 hours a week trying to keep them – and the rest are spending at least that much time a week trying to find work.
But that's not the tragedy. The real tragedy is that we're so driven that we simply have stopped asking questions. What would happen if we asked, "Why?" Why do I work such long hours when so many other Americans are job-less? Why can't I get a job when employers say they can't find quality workers in America? Why are machines replacing employees at every level of American society from grocery stores and restaurants to media and customer service?
We live and work and think in "sound bytes". We hear and see so many messages that we're tuning out. We're not even looking for the whole story or asking critical questions. We buy into the messages without so much as a "why?" or "does this really make sense?"
This week we follow a low carb diet, last week we feasted on complex carbs — for no other reason than that's what some self-proclaimed expert told us we should do. Did we ask "why?" Did we look for the story behind the story? Probably not.
Questions are key to helping us resolve most of the challenges we face. In fact, asking the right questions can make a huge difference in our quality of life.
"Why?" This is a powerful question that forces clarity. "You really do want to buy your dream home – even if it costs a paltry $1 Million, don't you?" (Sales people are taught to tack "don't you" "wouldn't it" "don't you agree" onto the end of their sales pitches because they know it pushes buyers to a "Yes". ) But, what if you, the buyer, hesitated just a moment – long enough to ask "why?" If you did, would you, just maybe, discover that the $1 Million house, is really NOT all that desirable after all? Or that perhaps, you'd be so busy working to pay for that house, you'd never be home long enough to enjoy it?
When called on to vote, what would happen if we asked, "Who really will profit if this law passes?" "Where is the money?" "Why does this candidate deserve my vote? What has he done that makes me think he deserves to represent my interests?"
How often do we accept the carefully structured marketing / sales messages that bombard us without question…and then (when it's too late) discover that we really did contribute to a process that has caused us irreparable losses? Isn't that what got us into the terrible mess in the Middle East? Isn't that how the Patriot Act got passed?
Marketers LOVE working with most of us. They know all they have to do is tell us something we want to hear. They groom presidential candidates and develop marketing campaigns for new products specifically for those of us who can be easily swayed by charismatic presentations and appeals to emotions. They know most Americans will to do anything – buy anything – based on immediate gratification of emotional needs — no questions asked.
When the sales person insists that "you really do WANT to have the latest, high-definition gadget, don't you?" consider asking "why?" If you can come up with a good reason beyond just that "it will impress my friends" or his conciliatory "trust me" or "this is a once-in-a-lifetime bargain" or "this is an offer I can't refuse", great! But, be very clear about why you want it in the first place…and take a moment to verify that this special gadget will, in fact, deliver on your expectations in the long haul.
Try it, you may find, as Helen did, that the questions will set you free. Helen was offered a promotion. It sounded wonderful. She'd get a title, a raise, a computer and a cell phone. She nearly said "Yes". It seemed like a dream opportunity. It looked like she'd finally arrived. She'd gain prestige, more money and the potential of being able to work at home occasionally. But then she asked, "Why?" and "What will all this do for me?" She discovered that the computer and cell phone meant she'd be working 24-7, the raise would be something like $5 a week more after taxes and increased costs of holding that titled position (wardrobe, car, babysitters, entertaining clients, and the like). She said "Thanks, but no thanks" and reports that she's never made a happier decision. She's working less, enjoying life more and has actually seen no significant change in her ability to buy whatever she and her family wants.
How soon we forget. When we were toddlers we knew well the power of "why". Something happens, though, as we grow older and more worldly-wise. Perhaps we are taught to accept everything we're told on blind faith. Or we got discouraged because we couldn't find the answers or we were led to believe that it's not cool to ask "why". When that happened, we lost control, power and meaning. And we became so many easily-manipulated, unthinking puppets responding to anyone who knows which strings to pull and which buttons to push.
Why are we on this treadmill running backwards? Could it be because we've lost all our whys?