Knabb: Slowing down and appreciating the good life

Justin Runquist

No one ever sprints through a marathon at full throttle. But if they did, I imagine the experience would be like attending college.

All the work, the deadlines, the responsibilities, the pressure: academia leaves us feeling like we’ll lose our breath sometimes. The race to December often feels like it’ll never end, yet when winter break finally arrives we just shake our heads and wonder where the time has gone. And the mad dash doesn’t stop here.

As I take this semester off to work at a global corporation, I notice that same pace of life can easily continue. People around me spend 12 hours in front of their computers each day. Their in-boxes are so full that their desks could collapse. And the corporate culture has many people convinced that sales growth is the most important thing in the world.

It’s not all this bad, but Americans are just trained to grow so fast. People are too busy to say hi in the hallways anymore. Face-to-face interaction has been replaced with e-mails and instant messaging. We digest information and live life the way we’d drink water through a fire hose.

Reality is professors will feed us more and more assignments. Reality is we’ll be evaluated in everything we do. Reality is shareholders will demand better returns. And if our superiors aren’t pushing us, reality is our peers will leave us in the dust.

Well, I’m going to stand up and say that evolution stinks sometimes. I must sound like your grandfather. I’m some kind of idealist who yearns to live in the old days where the world was filled with daisies and people gave milkmen the keys to their homes.

Our rapid, ultra-achieving lifestyles aren’t natural. When we hurry up to grow something – whether it’s school or business or personal life – something else must suffer. We can’t forget that we live in an extremely driven world. But more importantly, we should never forget that we’re always in the driver’s seat too.

My own pastor proposed an idea recently. He encouraged me approach each day by falling back on the “hammock-like love of God.” I’ve followed his advice. In my next campus interview, I think I’ll even prop my feet on the desk and demonstrate my new “hammock lifestyle” to a recruiter.

Don’t worry, we’ll get jobs after college. Don’t worry, requests and memos and unsolicited University e-mails will continue to fill our boxes every day. Thank heaven for our laptops and cell phones: at least they’ll die at some point.

I might seem grumpy this week. I’m not, but I am getting even for a while. This is why I am shipping myself over to Italy next semester. Not as a vacation, but to study in a different environment.

I can’t wait to see how Italians like living according to the other extreme. I hear people take two-hour lunches over there. I also understand that some Italian cities are banning neon signs, cell phone towers and fast food restaurants. Some urban planners are ridding their cities of traffic altogether.

They’re calling this the “Slow Cities” movement in Italy, and I think it’s a great idea. Just stew on that concept for a moment: a proposal to combat efficiency!

According to The Baltimore Sun, the Slow Cities movement is picking up momentum across that continent. Almost 50 Italian cities are signed up, and cities in Brazil, Germany, Great Britain, Greece and Switzerland want in, too.

The planners-in-charge say they are pursuing la dolce vita – the sweet life. “Globalization is taking over Italy,” said Silvio Barbero, one of the Slow Cities founders. “We have to start to defend our cultural heritage.”

While our country, as a whole, wouldn’t desire Italians’ slow pace of life, all of us can certainly learn something from them. I think there’s no secret why Italians cook the world’s best meals and make the world’s best wines. There’s no secret why some of the best artists, architects, musicians and actors are products of Italy.

One successful Italian community enrolled in the Slow Cities movement is Zibello. It’s comprised of 2,000 happy people, a nice lake, no automobiles and preserved plazas and palaces.

Zibello’s mayor, Giorgio Quarantelli, said, “The Slow Cities movement isn’t about stopping progress. It’s about growth of the quality of life.”

Where can Villanova sign up?