Triage gone bad
Just in case you haven’t noticed, just about everyone in this modern world is freaked out, teetering on the edge of cognitive overload, burnout and outright panic. Everyone’s to-do list stretches to the distant horizon. There’s just too much to do and not enough time to even scratch the surface. We hit the ground running in the morning and keep on tasking until our heads hit the pillow. It’s an insane way to live.
It’s more than just being busy. The problem is that we start cutting corners and making “decisions” in a desperate attempt to stay ahead of the game. Unconsciously, we begin to triage our tasks, but we blow it by triaging out the very things that sustain us. Perversely, we triage out our life-support systems and wind up with a handful of nothing.
Exercise is the prime example. When we get really busy, movement is the first thing to go. We consider it optional, something that we can make up for on the weekends or well, sometime. Next we triage out real food. We’re too busy to shop smart and too busy to cook, so we opt for the quickest “solutions.” And of course, we’re quick to triage out sleep, meditation and quiet time, all for the sake of efficiency and productivity.
These acts of self-destructive triage are well known, and we may even boast about them, but there’s even more to our folly. Consumed by busyness, we begin to triage out personal interactions with one another. Face-to-face conversations with real people simply take too much time, so we short-cut the process by saying “just shoot me an email,” which can easily be deleted at some later time. Even worse, we try to automate every point of human contact in our businesses, hospitals, corporations and universities. Instead of actually talking to one another, we fill out text fields or better yet, let auto-fill do it for us. This saves time, but it also destroys one of the most important things that makes human life worth living – robust social connection, tribe and community.
But of all our bad triage decisions, some of the worst are those that keep us locked indoors. Most of our work now takes place inside buildings and dwellings and it takes effort to get ourselves outside. We’ve got work to do, so nature is just going to have to wait. Over time, this perverse triage leaves us with a deep and painful sense of separation and a weaker connection to the very thing that keeps us alive. We become islands, cut off from the source of our vitality.
We’re like insane ER docs. Sick and wounded people are flowing into our emergency wards with all sorts of afflictions, from the trivial to the catastrophic. But instead of using our powers and resources where they would do the most good, we waste our time on the outrageous and the superficial. We lavish our attention on fatal injuries and minor scratches while the things that are truly important lie moaning on cots in the waiting room, starving for attention. In the process, we triage ourselves into poor health and stupidity.
A saner form of triage would protect the sustaining, life-giving qualities of our life experience: habitat, tribe, real food, vigorous movement and personal meaning. These would form the core of our daily decisions. To be sure, we’ve all got to pay the rent and do the chores. Sometimes these urgencies distract us from the truly vital qualities and experiences that really sustain us. But beware. Your body isn’t nourished by abstractions. It’s movement, real food, people and nature that keep us happy.