The true cost of rush hour

Posted: November 19, 2009 in Philosophy, Society

The true cost of rush hour is more than an overpriced train fare – it’s our humanity.

The thing that people lament most about working life is the loss of time. Time to pursue your passions and interests, time to spend with your family, and time to act. When I say ‘time to act’ I mean specifically the time to act on your gut feelings and instincts – feelings such as empathy. I focus on this because I have experienced it recently.

On an average weekday a working person’s experience of the world is limited to the journey to work, the lunch hour (if it is taken), and the journey from work. The journey to work is dominated by the fear of being late, while the journey home is dominated by the desire to relax and unwind after a hard day. Both of these – the fear and the desire – become excuses we use to console ourselves for not acting on our gut feelings of compassion.

Recently, for example, I finished work just before five – which is early for many, I know! Tired, I walked hurriedly to the bus station to catch the 5pm bus home. On the way I saw a wounded pigeon sitting helplessly on the pavement. I immediately felt something in my stomach which I believe was empathy. I stopped and wondered about the pigeon’s fate, but the draw of home was too powerful. The clock was ticking. I would have to wait an extra forty minutes if I missed the 5 o’clock bus. I hesitated, and walked on. I made my way home feeling guilty, reassuring myself that I could not have done anything because I didn’t have the time.

A friend of mine recently told me about how the Japanese philosopher Motoori Norinaga believed in something called jyou . Jyou is based on an idea by the Chinese philosopher Wang Yangming that all humans have an innate knowledge of the difference between good and evil which is “intuitive and not rational”. Jyou is the feeling which accompanies that innate knowledge. It is the gut instinct to act on a situation, such as that of the wounded pigeon, which creates feelings of empathy and compassion.

Working life creates conditions which stifle and suppress our jyou. Watch big city commuters walk past a beggar or a Big Issue vendor, and you will see this to be true to the majority of working people. In our hectic, work-obsessed lives we do not have the time to act on empathy and so we repress the desire to act until eventually we have repressed the feeling of compassion altogether.

If we reclaim the time to act we will reclaim a sense of right and wrong action which is innate in us. If we all try reclaiming some time today, there is a chance we will feel the jyou inside us next time we walk past a creature in need of help.

 

Photo credit: Dr Karanka

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