Monday, September 24, 2012

In Praise of the Tortoise

I've always been a slow reader. Long (long) before the day of EQAO standardized testing in elementary and secondary schools, little David would break into a cold sweat at the prospects of the 1950's version of this same 'torture': a timed reading of a paragraph, followed by questions on the content. I would marvel at other kids who (apparently) devoured the text and zoomed through the questions, unhesitatingly. I fashioned different strategies: attempting to skim the paragraph, guessing what might be queried, steeling myself to focus (checking the clock to see the time remaining, I'm sure did little to enhance) -- all to no avail.  Turns out the best and only strategy for this particular student was a careful reading, attending to each word and punctuation mark; and counting on what was a surprisingly good retention of the content -- as far as I got.

Who knew I'd had it right all along. Good thing too. The speed-reading courses my parents compelled me to attend (unsuccessfully) are fine it seems, if one's cup of tea is the latest Harlequin; not quite so with things a bit more weighty.  Recent research is now confirming that a slow and steady, studied approach actually stimulates increased blood flow to the brain more so than zooming one's finger down the middle of the page, catching what content one may an inch on either side of said digit -- and calling it reading. (What was Woody Allen's famous comment on reading speedily, after consuming War and Peace in 20 minutes? 'Something to do with Russia'). Validated at last!

And so, in praise of going slow, became something of a mantra for me this week -- and I began to look for and marvel at the myriad instances where pausing, considering carefully, then proceeding (or not) seemed to produce a more balanced, mutual, and satisfying outcome. Equally, having received more than my share (a single one would have satisfied and passed that threshold!) of ill-considered emails in the past few days (note to self: no reading of email after 9 p.m.), I speculated on what the content of these epistles might have been, had the writer carefully re-read, edited out sarcasm, presumption, boundary violation, and frank rudeness and misinformation -- then hit SEND (or not!)

Reactivity is such a satisfying exercise -- for the moment. The single-digit salute is a near-reflexive part of our 'vocabulary' when challenged, offended, infringed upon, or merely ignored. The gratifying emotional surge when a sound bit of verbal repartee (briefly) goes in our favor. The adversarial process is endemic, it seems, in our culture. The choice to fight or flee are often perceived as the only options: the former feeding our need to confront, defend, and dominate; the latter viewed as cowardly, acquiescent, and frankly wussy. Both, of course are rooted in the deeply seated 'lizard brain' need to instantly 'solve' a situation -- when delay meant you were someone's lunch.

Going slow is counter-intuitive and not particularly well-supported in our society. 'Sitting with' an issue is rarely preferred to the quick off the mark retort. Without it (the 'going slow' directive), however, it's very difficult to notice what's going on in the present moment. We become more easily 'victimized' by our automatic behaviors. We hugely limit our choices. All of these more desirable strategies -- noticing, behaving with intention, having options -- are supported by a regular, mindful approach to our day; and to our companions. Always nice when proceeding slowly and purposefully is borne out!

1 comment:

Douger said...

Right on. As a retiree, I wish that I could say that, having more time, I have changed the habit of non-reflective responses, quick driving and other unhelpful learned habits. As with all bad habits - 'unlearning' is difficult.