Saturday, August 27, 2005

Taking Time to Take Time Off

John Roberts was quoted the other day that "While some of the tales of woe emanating from the Court are enough to bring tears to the eyes, it is true that only Supreme Court Justices and school children are expected to and do take the entire summer off."   But, he added, there was an upside to that break: "We know that the Constitution is safe for the summer."


ManonporchNice quote and shows the humorist side of Judge Roberts, but it got me to thinking about our increasingly frenetic lives.  I have memories of my grandparents in tiny Tipton, Iowa.  GrandDad had a business downtown as well as a farm twenty miles out, but he walked the four blocks home every day for lunch, took a brief nap and walked back ‘downtown.’ Evenings we sat on the porch, talked to one another, invited a neighbor up if one happened to pass and complained about noisy starlings roosting in the two huge old maples in the yard.  It wasn’t terribly intellectually stimulating, but that may have been more because my grandparents were not intellectual than any other reason.  They were certainly not bumpkins.  When his five daughters (including my mother) were young, they played all 48 states and Alaska on the Chautauqua Circuit as the Craven Family Orchestra, my grandfather the leader and cornetist. My grandfather had that greatest of luxuries, the now quickly disappearing lavishness, not of money or finer things, but of time.


So, John Roberts’ quote sent me off on this little flight of fancy and it seems to me that there is wisdom to be found in taking the entire summer off.  We regularly re-charge our cell-phones and digital cameras, but seldom ourselves.  Reachable instantaneously by our labor-saving devices, we can no longer afford the time or hide long enough from the constant pressure of need to take even a metaphoric walk home for lunch and a nap. Instead of re-charging ourselves we misappropriate our lives to the service of busyness in the guise of business.


Few of us, like those lucky children and Supreme Court Justices, can take the summer off.  But we could have our cake and eat it too, if we and our employers worked at it.


Consider that there are 260 working days in a year and from that we are usually allowed to deduct 5 for personal time, another 10 sick leave, a minimal 10 for vacation, added to a usual 12 accepted as national holidays of one kind or another.  All of this based on an eight-hour day.  Okay . . . 223 times we actually get up to the morning alarm in a year.


CellphonemanwomanI suggest we work a ten instead of eight hour day and thereby gain a day a week.  52 extra days off drops the total to 171 ten-hour days.  223 times 8 yields 1,784 and 171 times 10 yields 1710, so we’ve shorted our employers by 74 hours and that won’t do . . . patch on another seven ten-hour days and agree to work 178 days a year. 


Now comes the fun.


We’ve got 187 days off.  More days off than days on.  Three-day weekends the year around and still thirty-one days for holiday.  What we’ve given up is the extraneous stuff, the personal time and sick leave and national holidays, but what we’ve gained is some rational control over our lives and the ability to create a sense of family down-time. 


What we do with it is an entirely different question.  I recall that computers were going to create a paperless society and that hasn’t happened.  Four-day, forty-hour weeks might not put us on the porch in Tipton, Iowa either. 


But somewhere in the equation, we need desperately to reclaim our humanity and the next generation of technological devices isn’t likely to provide the answer.
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A bunch more environmental issues muddying the waters on my personal web site.