Violence of Technology

Building on the previous post and how we do violence to ourselves through “well-intentioned” over-commitment, this is a brief consideration of the violent consequences of technological approaches driven solely by expediency and efficiency.

When measuring human success, we use terms borrowed from technology, words and phrases like, outputs, operational objectives and capabilities, hitting benchmarks etc. but treating workers (people!) like cogs in a wheel is so far below the astonishing array of human capabilities. Since the Industrial Revolution, efficiency has become the standard against which we measure success, eschewing creativity, intuition, feelings, nurturing–all those soft, unquantifiable  attributes that mark us as human. Humans do not thrive in soul-numbing, repetitive work unless perhaps money is the only need, but if one works at a minimum wage job (where such jobs are abundant) even that need will not be met.


workers in a meat processing production line

However, productive efficiencies will churn out billions of hamburgers, tacos, french fries and processed foods–all of which are slowly killing us. (In 2050, 1 in 3 Americans will have Type 2 diabetes if present trends continue.) Human needs ignored in the drive to make hamburgers. Who thinks this makes sense?

This poignant quote by Thomas Merton articulates not only the consequences of a mindless adherence to measuring success solely by technological standards, but also, how the ever insistent cacophony of technology mirrors our agitated minds. More agitation, less reflection, more violence.

“Technology has its own ethic of expediency and efficiency. What can be done efficiently must be done in the most efficient way—even if what is done happens, for example, to be genocide or the devastation of a country by total war. Even the long-term interests of society, or the basic needs of man himself, are not considered when they get in the way of technology. We waste natural resources, as well as those of undeveloped countries, iron, oil, etc., in order to fill our cities and roads with a congestion of traffic that is in fact largely useless, and is a symptom of the meaningless and futile agitation of our own minds.”

~Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

buddha, ©VSpain

buddha, ©VSpain

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Well-Intentioned Violence

My weeks away from here have been consumed writing a grant due May 30th. This grant money replaces federal money recently cut from our program, so there’s a lot of pressure to succeed. Intense periods periods of work test the routines that sustain health and creativity.

I’ve managed to do most of my daily routines: meditate, exercise, stretch/yoga, and art but for less time. Work should be cut back NOT personal care and creativity habits. The latter sustain us, work does not. And I speak from a place of loving my work. I make my own schedule but it is still difficult  to remember the judging, driving voices that spur me to do more, more, ever more are false, and not mine. I don’t believe in that kind of relentless drive to succeed. I believe you can succeed just fine without being driven. And if truth be told, we can often do less work and still do a good-enough job, but cutting back on personal care and creativity routines, always leads to more stress, less wellness, and more chronic issues and illness.

When an artist as accomplished as Picasso urges us to work with restraint, he upends the idea of working to death to succeed. There’s no wisdom in that–no fun, pleasure or joy either.


monster from a sketchbook, ©VSpain

Over-commitment to work, no matter how “good” the work, is a form of violence that serves no one, least of all the person filled with the ardor to “do good.”

I reflect on this constantly, and still struggle to set limits. It doesn’t mean I shouldn’t write that grant, it means pulling back on other things while I do–and constantly reflecting on, and letting go of, the things I’ve said yes to.

In Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, Thomas Merton wrote:

“There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”




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#3 Execute: A Feeling of Strength in Reserve

To pursue the disciplined pursuit of less, Greg McKeown says successful people use routine and ritual to focus on the essential.

Artists in all disciplines intimately understand the power of routine. In 2006, Twyla Tharp called creativity a habit in her book, The Creative Habit, and explored the power of rituals and routines to develop those habits. The description of her own creative routine was my one major take-away from the book. Every day she leaves her apartment and takes a cab to her  studio where she creates dance choreography. But her habit doesn’t start in the studio, it starts when she enters the cab.

And then there is Piscasso’s discipline (below). His quote both exhorts the creator to say no, and describes the innate power that results from it. Saying no requires restraint, a virtue we ignore at our peril. In a society that constantly expects our all, our everything–every drop of physical, mental and emotional energy for all projects at hand-what would it be like to say no to the unessential, and then to walk in the world with “a feeling of strength in reserve.”

photo 1

two figs on a plate ©VSpain

You must always work not just within but below [my italics] your means. If you can handle three elements, handle only two. If you can handle ten, then handle only five. In that way, the ones you do handle, you handle with more ease, more mastery, and you create a feeling of strength in reserve. 




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#2 Eliminate Deliberately with Purpose

I could not possibly explain the importance of saying no–point #2–better than this.

“If success is a catalyst for failure because it leads to the “undisciplined pursuit of more,” then one simple antidote is the disciplined pursuit of less. Not just haphazardly saying no, but purposefully, deliberately, and strategically eliminating the non-essentials. Not just once a year as part of a planning meeting, but constantly reducing, focusing and simplifying. Not just getting rid of the obvious time wasters,but being willing to cut out really terrific opportunities as well [my italics]. Few appear to have the courage to live this principle, which may be why it differentiates successful people and organizations from the very successful ones.”

~Greg McKeown

And one more great question before the next yes: how hard would you work to be on this project if you weren’t on it?

bud ©VSpain

bud ©VSpain

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#1 Explore and Evaluate

I’d like to review Greg McKeown’s work for this and the next few posts. He distils his essentialism advice to 3 points:

  • Explore/Evaluate
  • Eliminate
  • Execute

In order to get to the essential and discard the unessential McKeown suggests constantly narrowing the field. To paraphrase, we live in a world where everything is noise and few things are truly valuable. So how to figure out what’s valuable? Continue applying tougher and tougher criteria.

I’ve been working on simplifying my life for several years, and now trying to take it from the personal realm into the work. But simplifying work commitments and tasks in an sector (grant-funded public health project) where the need is great, where worthy projects constantly pop up, and where I often succumb to requests to add “just” one more project to my list–all that was proving difficult. I go home, shut off the devices, hang with friends, with the cat, meditate, but bringing presence to work was confounding. Until I read McKeown. He took my thoughts about this subject, explained why people get into this mess, and boiled his ideas down to 3 steps. Of course following through is the work, but it’s work I’m already committed to.

boatThis came to a head several months ago at an event, where people were discussing all the great blogs, aggregated sites etc. to find information about food, everything from recipes to starting a food business and more. At that moment it was so clear how futile it is to chase the never-ending tsunami of information about food- or any subject. Just because information is available (on iPhone, iPad, computer ,whatever) doesn’t mean we have to do anything with it or about it!

I love my work and because it’s so compelling it’s hard to say no, but McKewon says that’s exactly what to do–but hold on. Saying no is point #2. We’ll get to that later- right now, if you could only accomplish one thing what would it be? You can ask that about the next day, week or hour- you can ask it about your life!

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Essentialism: Taking Time to Do what You Want

Many of us who love our work and find many things compelling, often find ourselves busy but don’t feel productive. We say yes to everything and advance a millimeter on all of them.

I recently heard about Greg McKeown, and his book The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. His basic premiss is people need more time, not less, to think about what they want to do; they need to turn off all devices and schedule time alone so they have the time to think, and then they need to practice saying no to all the people, projects and ideas that take time away from their essential work. He calls this process essentialism.

Two important questions: do I have time to do this? Is this the very best use of my time, creativity, resources? Is it? Say no to those things that sap your time and energy and say yes selectively- not just to avoid trouble, or please people.

From there you find space, and in that space is where you really find what you want to do. The embedded video gives steps for coming to clarity.



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Keeping Quiet

I feel lazy posting words other than my own, but first, the last weeks have been very full at work, second, I’m tired and third, I’m choosing words by people whose wisdom and eloquence inspires me. And I hope you. So today, Keeping Quiet by Pablo Neruda.

Now we will count to twelve

forest path ©VSpain

and we will all keep still

for once on the face of the earth,

let’s not speak in any language;

let’s stop for a second,

and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment

without rush, without engines;

we would all be together

in a sudden strangeness.


Fishermen in the cold sea

would not harm whales

and the man gathering salt

would not look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,

wars with gas, wars with fire,

victories with no survivors,

would put on clean clothes

and walk about with their brothers

in the shade, doing nothing.


What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.

Life is what it is about…


If we were not so single-minded

about keeping our lives moving,

and for once could do nothing,

perhaps a huge silence

might interrupt this sadness

of never understanding ourselves

and of threatening ourselves with


Now I’ll count up to twelve

and you keep quiet and I will go.

                            ~Pablo Neruda


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