Slower futures — not faster? One dog’s approach to community futures

Today’s blog is dedicated to my dog, Isabella, who passed away last week. As a puppy Isabella made me crazy, but not in the usual frantic puppy kind of way. She did everything in slow motion. I should explain: Isabella was an Italian Spinone, the bird retrievers of Italy. Since the Middle Ages Spinones have been one of the dog breeds of the Italian rural gentry, so there are hundreds of generations of dogs who are accustomed to long walks, warm evenings by the fire, and to having their people bringing them delicious meals.  This was true of our modern Spinone, I was treated more like staff than ‘owner’ or companion, and she also she insisted on long slow walks. Slow walks. Slow. I learned to slow down to her pace, even though it did make me crazy sometimes.

Focusing so intently on Isabella in these past few weeks, and thinking about my own process of slowing down under her tutelage, I began to wonder if maybe the whole world needs some Isabella time.

Why is it that we accept so much busyness in our lives? And why is it that when we think about the future it is so often layered with speed? With the assumption that faster is better.  Faster computers, faster cars, faster travel, faster production, faster education, faster meals.  But perhaps as futures thinkers we need to face this assumption straight on.

What if… our futures could actually be slower – not faster?  Does anyone really like doing things fast all time?  I guess, maybe, there are some people who thrive on a fast, multi-tasking, doing everything in as short a time as possible approach to life. But is this good for us, for our work, for those around us?  Carl Honoré, in his book, In Praise of Slow, describes his process in moving from speed reading a bedtime story to his son to a more joyful, leisurely read.

Research is now demonstrating what we all know in our hearts, and have probably experienced in our own lives, that when we are really busy we don’t notice other people’s (or animal’s) pain or needs as well – our levels of care and empathy decrease simply by not noticing or because we don’t have time for another thing in the hour/day.  And yet what our world needs is more empathy not less.  We need more caring, not less.

So as we do our futures-based work or community/organisational processes let’s challenge the speed assumption.  When someone gets all jazzed up about Moore’s law being broken because of even faster change, or some new computer that does things even faster, try responding with: Is that a good thing?  or Why is faster better?  or, Do you know whose bodies and labour is enabling our computers to go faster and faster? or, Do you know how much of the Earth is being mined to enable increased speed?  Perhaps our empathy for the workers of the world, and the body of the world, will be what finally has us question ‘faster is better’.

With consideration for our own bodies, and all that we are learning about sitting disease, maybe slow technology would be better?  For example, what if an internet search, would take 2 minutes, not 1 second, so you have time to enter your search item then stand up and stretch or make a pot of tea or go outside on your balcony, or porch, and say hello to the wind or a neighbour? I know there wouldn’t be immediate uptake on this particular idea, if ever, but you get my drift.  Why does the dominant system demand that we rush though our days in the present? And why do we want/accept more rushing in the future?

Maybe we could begin by being more purposeful in our present time by creating short breaks in the day? The short “pause” as Pema Chödrön and Tara Brach (among others) teach, to bring us back to what is important – compassion, love, caring, kindness –  in the present, and as we create visions for our diverse futures.

One of Futures Studies’ founders, Dr. Eleonora Masini, argued that futures scholars and practitioners need to look past the usual participants and include women and children in their futures-based processes.  I think this is very true. And perhaps we also need to include dogs, and other animals, in our processes?  Certainly it would be easier to envision nature in our futures if there were deer or okapi in the room, or to include non-industrialised farming in our visions if there were chickens or cows in the room.  And dogs could be there to remind us to value companionship, walking outdoors, and a slower pace of life in our futures visioning and action planning.

Isabella showed us that life should be at a pace that allows for kindness and connection. That seems like a great place to start to our futures visioning.

Further reading:

Pema Chödrön.  When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

Tara Brach.  Radical Acceptance

Carl Honoré.  In Praise of Slow: How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed.


3 responses to “Slower futures — not faster? One dog’s approach to community futures

  1. Karen, thank you for sharing your story about Isabella. I can imagine the pain of loss and I admire how you turned her death into an opportunity to question the insanity that drives everyone faster. Slow is unquestionably the goal of my days, in the sense of doing things at the pace that is comfortable for my body and mind. Quick enough for completion and satisfaction, but without the stress of time and deadlines. I’ve found even when external pressures and deadlines require a pace less to my liking, if I focus on the task at hand rather than the constraints, it completes without much added stress and all are satisfied, even my brain and body. Living it is the only way to practise anything, and reminding us to do whatever it is at the pace we are comfortable with is the inspiration I’m taking from you and Isabella today…Willy Willow and Daisy Mae (our two canines) are likely faster than Isabella but certainly embody the general principles that Isabella lived herself.

  2. I remember “way back then” when Charles Handy was first writing about the new age of leisure we would enter when technology took over our busy-work. Charles was a philosopher, and maybe thought that more people would be like him and value that as “thinking time”. Instead, most of us are busy cramming more ‘stuff” in. Thought 1: we need to be mindful of our human natureS (the ‘s’ is deliberate) in our futures thinking. Thought 2: I’m glad for your time with Isabella, it has enriched us all.

  3. Thank you Karen and Isabella for the reminder that we need to think more carefully about how we use time. Like so many things and experiences in life our happiest moments are when we are in tune with the occasion, environment and people around us. These moments are timeless and perhaps we need to recognise and celebrate them more in the futures we are creating.

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