We go far and we go gentle.
I recently read something written by a human I adore from a distance. She wrote;
“How do I have a slow exchange with others on a platform that forces us to have quick and oftentimes shallow exchanges?” - Nneka Julia
You may have gathered that she was referring to social media spaces. Platforms that prompt us to often engage without having made the conscious decision to do so. In the same way that we brush our teeth, our fingers habitually log on, consume and log off, without a conscious decision in sight. But, this is not a piece about social media.
The idea of slowness has seeped itself into the crevices of my thoughts as I think about how I connect, interact and move in the world. As a spontaneous, highly stimulated and adventurous human being, I tend to find myself moving at a speed even light struggles to catch up to. The high of being busy almost feels like an addictive form of self-destruction where my rent here on earth is paid by looking like I’m getting things done, post-haste.
Now I know the ‘rest’ movement has taken over the millennial and ma’2000 streets. We confidently and unflinchingly say to our parents when they ask us what we’re up to for the day, “leave me mama, I’m resting.” This in many ways is a victory for our generation, something our grandparents could only dream of. However there’s an element that I reckon we are still yet to grasp. Slowness. This involves doing something, but deliberately and intentionally doing it gradually.
Many African teachings share with us the value of slowness. In isiZulu they say “kancane, kancane.” In Ghanaian pidgin they say “small, small.” Those two phrases are synonymous, advising the listener to complete a task little by little. The value in doing so goes beyond what our minds can perceive, it prioritises process as the main outcome. It inspires us to consider each step as its own landing place. Picking up valuable lessons we may not have anticipated along the way.
The minds of young people are littered with the desire to achieve and be successful in the quickest way possible. We see our age mates building businesses, making 30 under 30 lists, and meeting their ‘soulmates.’ We give thanks for their blessings. In addition to that, we may also want to consider that where we are now, is where we need to be for the victory of our future selves.
Writing one word a day is writing.
I’ve observed a trend, even in myself, of disposing of things that require long and deep engagement. We easily connect with people through waves of excitement and familiarity. Soon after, once the high of newness has settled, we struggle to stay engaged and adapt ourselves to the changing relationship. If it no longer stimulates us in ways that seem blatant and immediate, we let go without a trace of decay. An uncomfortable yet bearable coldness, we calculate whether no longer engaging will affect us financially, emotionally or socially. Economies of ghosting I guess we can call it. But you know all about instant gratification.
The problem isn’t really how quickly we dispose, it's more about how unintentionally we engage. With people, environments, projects, ideas, and on and on. We thunderously stomp into new spaces with the excitement of being seen and the rush of being heard . Not considering what we can see when we come in slowly and what we can hear when we enter sensitively. Absorbing the beauty that breathes through the stillness and the lessons that are wrapped in the details.
I lean on the words of Nneka and ask myself; how do I prioritise slow and meaningful exchanges with people, things and projects in a world that persuades me to have quick and often shallow engagements? How do I enter a space and not leave when it is boring? How do I sit in silence with something or someone unfamiliar and not try to fill up the stillness with stimulus? How do I see without the fear of not being seen? How do I hear without the uneasiness of not being heard?
A flame can burn in two ways; it can burn fast and cease quickly, or it can burn slow and last eternally.
We go far and we go gentle.