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The Tyranny of the Urgent

On Friday, I attended a conference for work. It meant getting up especially early to drive to Orlando to arrive by 9am. It’s a two hour drive if no interstate or highway traffic dilemmas. One of the speakers used a phrase that has resonated all weekend.

“Let us all stop falling victim to the tyranny of the urgent.”

Len Fromer, MD    

The conference was focused on the national objectives of creating a more patient centered medical system. If I allow my cynic and skeptic free-range, I argue that the entire Patient Centered Medical Home initiative is driven my cost and risk ratios and how they compare to profitability, that would be unfair. As a family physician and as an osteopath, the “patient-centered” philosophy is tantamount to the true spirit and art of medicine. How can we care for people if we focus on just their disease? But the recommendation from Dr. Fromer resounds to everything in life. We’re all trapped on this high speed bullet train headed to Destination X and while barreling through time and space we get urgent emails and phone calls and needs to shop and order and eat and exercise NOW. All of it has to be DONE RIGHT NOW! Add into this everyday urgency the random and unpredictable printer failure, automatic software update, broken crown, acute influenza, speeding ticket, bounced check, undelivered package and a call slip from the USPS carrier and life flashes into this extraordinary whirling dervish and everything is urgent. Everything demands NOW. Everything is LATE even if it isn’t due until tomorrow because we receive auto-reminders to PAY NOW, ORDER NOW, RESPOND NOW.

The cacophony blinds and paralyzes us yet we perpetuate the velocity and the urgency, feeding the anxiety and the frenzy. We buy apps for our phones so we can order plane tickets and select our seats. We add apps that allow us to activate our home alarms or track our kids (or spouses). We DVR shows so we can multitask, watching while we do chores or our “hobbies”. Rush, rush, rush.

I am guilty of this. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, right? The obnoxious customer, the rude and the impatient presses through and we “deal” with them so as to rid ourselves of the ugliness, yet it fosters the environment, the precedence is set to encourage this urgency, this pushing and shoving. When did civility die? And when did we move Jimmy the Spitballer to the front of the lunchroom line? When did Greggy the Biter get to be the captain of the kickball team? When did Suzy the Tantrum Thrower receive the Gold Star pupil of the day award?

My goal is to cease being hostage to this tyrant. I vow to stop hurling myself into this centrifugal vortex of NOW NOW NOW. What in life truly and absolutely must be done RIGHT NOW? Even if I have an axe buried in my skull, the moment to pause is BEFORE you rush to remove the object. Life is not an arms race or a downhill luge – not perpetually.

Sometimes it is wise to simply sit on the sofa close to someone you really like, eat cake and watch silly, nostalgic TV. When we stop rushing, the glorious and beautiful things in life happen. And honestly…..when did anything that was really, really important happen with a sense of urgency or haste? Can anyone hear Jesus saying, “COME ON PEOPLE! Let’s GO!!!!!” For that matter, can we hear Gandhi or Moses or Mohammad or Martin Luther King or General Patton saying such a thing? All of them said, “Be patient. Have faith.” Life requires discernment and presence. And I promise to banish this tyrant.

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