Beliefnet
Picture yourself in the halcyon days of childhood. Youare putting on your jacket, getting ready to leave home,when your mother calls out your name.

"Where are you going?" she asks.

"Out," you say.

"With whom?" she continues.

"My friends," you answer.

"To do what?" she inquires.

"Nothing," you say.

And it was true. You had nothing in mind. Perhapsyou would meet a friend, sit on a stoop, stand on a corner,or toss a ball. In the good old days, when the world was a simpler place, children didn't plot and plan. They simply went out and played with kids they liked.Times have changed. Today, children learn that planning is the hallmark of a well-lived life. They see their parents armed with calendars and date books, making back-to-back appointments and jetting around the country on marathon business trips, seldom stopping to take a breather. The emphasis on being busy is so great that Richard Stengel wrote the following in The New Yorker:

Nowadays, people don't ask you how you are, they say, 'Are you busy?' meaning, 'Are you well?' If someone actually does ask you how you are, the most cheerful answer, of course, is a robust 'Busy!' to which the person will reply 'Good! "Busy' used to be a negative sort of word. It meant having no time for yourself, no leisure. 'No, I can't come out this weekend, I'm too busy.' Sorry about that, you poor stiff. Now, though, busyness is bullish. Conspicuous industriousness is the rule.
"Conspicuous industriousness" is fancy talk for chasing your own tail. This is the habit of rushing around frantically and feeling quite noble even when you go nowhere fast. Equipped with cell phones, beepers, and handheld computers, the "conspicuously industrious" blur the line between home and office by working anytime, anywhere. Always on call, they make a perverse case for the argument that work isn't a part of life, but rather that life is a part of work. They embody the new twenty-first century ideal--"I work, therefore I am."

And whether they know it or not, they are competitors in the rat race. Constantly busy, moving at breakneck speed, they wake, work, earn, spend, shovel down food, and collapse--only to begin the same vicious cycle over again the next day. Never knowing which end is up, they live according to the "Rules of the Rat Race," an unwritten code of conduct that says you should:

1. Bite off more than you can chew.

2. Act as if enough is never enough.

3. Chase your tail and run to stand still.

4. View life as a part of work, instead of work as a partof life.

5. Acknowledge that some rats are more equal than others.

Perhaps it was in the aftermath of World War II that the Rules of the Rat Race first took shape. Fresh from victory on the international front, America was basking in a new spirit of optimism and economic prosperity. As cars rolled off the assembly line and houses rose up from the ground in manicured suburbs, there was a feeling of unlimited possibility in the air. The Great Depression was a thing of the past; the standard of living was rising; and scientific innovation was bringing forth everything from the polio vaccine and penicillin to filtered cigarettes and baby formulas.

All work and no play make Jack a dull boy...
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  • Our cultural desire for affluence was nurtured by the media, which also sowed the seeds of discontent. As Barbara Ehrenreich notes in her book, Fear of Falling: The Inner Life of the Middle Class, television brought "the most decrepit ghetto dwelling intimate glimpses into the 'lifestyles of the rich and famous,' not to mention the merely affluent. Studying the televised array of products and comforts available, seemingly, to everyone else, the poor become more dangerous."
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