The first time I noticed the correlation between “busy” and “important” was when a friend of mine boasted of her first “cardiac incident” at the age of 27. She was a very important person, after all. So important that she had to be on call 24 hours a day for her workplace, had to arrange everything around the schedule of her workplace, and rushed back to work after being released from the hospital, in case anything had happened that needed only her to fix. 1
Since I judge my worth the same way, I don’t really blame her. The Cult of Busy tells us that worthwhile people have full daytimers, with every minute packed. Want to do lunch with friends? I’ll have to plan that week in advance. Coffee date? Only if I can fit it in between my full-time job and my hours of volunteering. And I simply can’t agree to anything else right now, have I told you how busy and overwhelmed I am with all my important things to do?
There are things I think are wrong with this pace of life for everyone (including me, but as I said, I totally buy into it), but it’s especially difficult when it comes to people with disabilities. When you value someone’s worth as a human being on how much they can squeeze into a day, what value do you place on someone who cannot do all of that? And what value do you place on people who attempt to do enough to keep up with everyone else, but fail?
We value certain things in Western Society, and one of those things is How Important You Are, and how we judge that importance is how busy you are – how in demand you are – how many people want to know what you have to say.
One of the ways this manifests is around Work (by which I mean paid labour outside of the home – the issues of unpaid labour within the home are a bit different, and we all know that unpaid homemaking is very undervalued, and people have some odd ideas about home offices and small business run out of them, and then we get into volunteering and– well, I mean paid labour outside the home for now). “What do you do?” means “What is your job?”, and if you can’t work full-time because of a disability, well. Well. That’s so sad. What do you do all day, after all? (How important can you be? What will I talk to you about if I can’t talk to you about your job? Gosh, you must be lazy. It must be nice to sit around all day!)
And then things get internalized. “I don’t have a job. I’m not contributing. I’m not important. I better make myself small and inoffensive in some way so that no one thinks I’m a burden. I don’t really have a lot of worth as a person because I’m not contributing.”
The Cult of Busy reinforces a lot of abliest ideas about who is important, and who is not, which means that the people with disabilities who can’t do It All (whatever It All is) are by default not important. They don’t count. They don’t need to be considered in how you build a business, say, because they’re never going to work for you and never going to spend money there because they aren’t important. They’re not worth including in your campaign about social justice issues because they don’t work so they don’t really contribute and even if they did, no one cares about what they have to say anyway because they aren’t important. If they were important, they’d be Busy. And Busy means something very specific: As many hours of the day filled with Stuff To Do as possible.
I want to write a lot about the Cult of Busy, in a variety of ways. How The Cult of Busy feeds into the idea that people who work less than 40 (or 60 or 80) hours a week are “getting away with something” and “not actually committed to their jobs”. How if you’re not working you “should” be volunteering, because otherwise you’re doing “nothing” with your day. How we disdain people who “just sit around all day”. How people like me end up confusing “busy” with “important and meaningful” to the point where we make ourselves ill doing too many things and being torn in too many directions.
Be busy. Be more. Be better.
[Be exhausted. Be unwell. Be harmed.]
- This wasn’t actually true, just how she perceived things. When she was fired several months later and the place she worked at was better for it, she was the only one surprised. ↩