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July 3, 2007

'Do Nothing To Change Your Life: Discovering What Happens When You Stop' — by Stephen Cottrell

I happened on the wonderful book title in the headline above in Stefan Stern's superb June 18, 2007 Financial Times column, which follows.

    And the good news is there's nothing you can do about it

    Never mind soaring US Treasury yields. Never mind dramatic share price volatility. I am today calling the top of the market. The key indicator? Paris Hilton screaming "It's not fair!" as she was led back to the Los Angeles county jail.

    For me, the tear-stained cheeks of Ms Hilton as she was driven away from the LA court were eloquent. She is a symbol of that vast body of people who have difficulty recognising when enough is enough, when it is time to stop spending and start growing up, when justice must be done.

    Ms Hilton may find the prospect of incarceration terrible and unfair. But a dose of austerity might be just what she needs. Indeed, after only a couple of days' imprisonment she was telling the distinguished interviewer Barbara Walters she had found God and was devoting herself to a new seriousness.

    "It's not fair!" has long been the war cry of the spoilt child and angry teenager. Today it is the watchword of the heavily mortgaged homeowner who looks longingly at even bigger houses that are infuriatingly out of reach. It is the core belief of the shopper who is convinced, in the gospel according to L'Oréal, that they are "worth it", that they deserve to be able to buy everything they desire.

    The planet is now displaying unmistakable signs of the consequences of unrestrained consumerist debauchery. New evidence emerges every week, both scientific and anecdotal. My Delhi-based cousin recently arrived to stay in London and found the climate almost identical.

    You do not have to go as far as Benjamin Barberto believe that we could all benefit from a time-out from the consumerist treadmill. The professor of civil society at the University of Maryland is author of the recently published "Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilise Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole".

    Critics of today's spending binge are sneeringly dismissed as puritans. But it was striking, in a recent BBC television programme that charted the history of postwar Britain, to be shown the amount of food each adult was allowed to consume in a week in the mid-1940s. It looked barely enough for one day.

    My colleague Richard Tomkins's campaign for a return to rationing, launched heroically in this newspaper last year, was met (as he doubtless expected) by a less than euphoric response. But the logic of restricting our use of limited resources still makes pretty good sense to me. Or am I just being "unfair"?

    Prof Barber is a bit more extreme. "Once upon a time, capitalism was allied with virtues that also contributed at least marginally to democracy, responsibility and citizenship," he writes in his new book. "Today it is allied with vices which — although they serve consumerism — undermine democracy, responsibility and citizenship."

    But what can managers do about all this? Nothing. No, I mean they can literally try doing nothing. This idea has been put forward in another new book, "Do Nothing to Change Your Life: Discovering What Happens When You Stop", by the bishop of Reading, Stephen Cottrell.

    The bishop's epiphany came last year at Dublin airport where, having misread his ticket, he had to spend the rest of the day hanging around waiting for his flight home.

    In the next four hours he experienced a range of emotions. First, there was irritation at all that "wasted time". Then came grudging acquiescence. And finally, after a second cup of coffee and a pleasant, lazy stroll around the building, inspiration.

    He sat down and wrote a poem, something he hadn't done in ages.

    Our breathless "busy-ness" is getting us nowhere — or, at least, nowhere we should want to be, the bishop says. "Getting and spending we lay waste our powers," as Wordsworth, probably a more significant poet, wrote.

    Contemplating his happily inactive teenage son, the bishop confesses: "Each day I marvel at his fantastic capacity to lie in bed. I moan about him – that is expected of parents — but really I am jealous. I observe the daring scope of his sloth with secret envy."

    Technological advance has, of course, encouraged a ramping up of frenzied activity. But being "connected" has not brought people closer together.

    "The noisy world is also an astonishingly lonely world — lots of chatter but no conversation; surrounded by people, but with no community," the bishop says.

    The apotheosis (or nadir?) has now been reached with the amazing success of Twitter, the "social networking" service that allows its many users to declare, in a simple sentence, what they happen to doing at any given moment, 24 hours a day.

    Well, sod that for a game of soldiers. I'm off for a short, environmentally sustainable holiday (by ferry to France). Next week, if I could be bothered to have one, my Twitter entry would read: "Not very much really, and enjoying it."


Great cover, what?


$11.02 at Amazon.

July 3, 2007 at 10:01 AM | Permalink


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side note: Stephen Cottrell is the current Bishop of Reading

Posted by: Russ | Jul 10, 2007 12:23:19 AM

Good food for thought :)

Posted by: NotCreativeEnough | Jul 3, 2007 11:04:46 PM

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