The Tortoise and the Hare

In Essays, Philosophy, Self Improvement

In the coming months I am going to be writing a lot on the “Art of Slowing Down” and how we can actually learn to enjoy life more by doing things slower.

What’s even stranger, we can actually become more productive by doing less. I’ve been testing this concept out for over six months now and I can truly say that it has changed my life around. I moved countries, started various successful businesses, made new friends and, more importantly, I am doing what I want to do. I actually drafted an entire lengthy book that I was thinking of publishing, but I’ve decided to slowly release it as a series of essay, free of charge.

I think more people will find it useful this way.

No study on the “Art of Slowing Down” would be complete without the story of the Tortoise and the Hare. There are actually several versions of this tale but the most popular goes something along these lines:

The Hare challenged the Tortoise to a race. By the time the tortoise had fully crossed the starting line, the hare was already out of sight. After a short while the Hare looked back and exhausted by the initial effort, decided to take a short nap as the victory was already guaranteed. When the Hare woke up and ran to the finish line, he was shocked to find that he had overslept and slow and steady Tortoise had already arrived.

One could analyse this short tale in a number of ways. One could examine the arrogance of the hare and praise the perseverance of the tortoise. One could speak volumes about not making assumptions about winning before you have actually won, of not counting your chickens before the eggs have hatched. It does without saying that the race can be turned into an analogy for life, in fact, we often use the term rat-race to describe the modern hussle-bussle lifestyle of chasing financial and material rewards.

What is most interesting, in my opinion, is what is left out of this tale. There is no discussion about why they were racing, if winning is even desirable and does the result even matter? Let’s make the assumption that the Hare did win, what then? Would the Tortoise be deluded, or would it have enjoyed the race anyway? After all, plenty of people run races for charity or fun with no intention of winning. Perhaps the Tortoise was racing itself, attempting a personal best?

Perhaps the Tortoise actually broke the world land speed record for tortoises. Now the fact that the Tortoise lost against the Hare, an outcome which we were expecting anyway, would lose any significance. The Tortoise would have accomplished something incredible, even while losing the race.

Without cheating, you cannot control the performance of the other competitors in a race so it logically follows that the best course of action is just to concentrate on racing to the best of your ability, regardless of what anyone else is doing.

Is the desire to win the race conductive to leading a happy life? Is it better to take one’s time, enjoy the scenery, smell the flowers and go at a more leisurely pace? If life is a journey then what is the destination? Death? Or is there another destination, is it earning a certain amount of money, getting the dream job, the dream partner or perhaps seeing your children, or grandchildren, grow up and flourish.

This leads us to the infamous question: Why are we here?

I’m not going to be brave (or arrogant) enough to attempt to answer this question in this series of essays. It can be difficult to create meaning in one’s life but the perhaps one of the best approaches is to think that “life is what you make it”.

We actually can decide the meaning of our lives, and the meaning of success.

I find this thought reassuring.

What I will pushing in this series of essays is the idea that we don’t have race headlong as such speeds that everything becomes a blur. Life is long, and there is plenty of time. As we never know when we are going to die, the next time you do something could very well the last. With this in mind, it pays off to slow down and appreciate what we have, right now. If we take everything for granted all the time because we are too busy chasing a career or something else, we will also take everything for granted the last time we do it.

Imagine you were told that you were going to die tomorrow and so today is your last day. Think about how amazing this day would be. How good does the last meal of a condemned criminal taste?

Life is not a race and it’s most definitely not a zero-sum game in which for one person to win another person has to lose. It’s easy to lose the sight of this when everything becomes a blur.

This is exactly what this is about. It’s about slowing down, enjoying life and finding satisfaction in meaningful work. It’s about placing a higher value on reflection instead of immediate action, on insight instead of experience and, in some ways, dreams instead of reality.

The modern way of life has us rushing around trying to win the rat race and we all end collapsing long before the finish line. I am suggesting a different approach because, just like an unexamined life, a rushed life is not worth living.

A moment’s insight is sometimes worth a life’s experience.

~ Oliver Wendel Holmes, Jr.