And that worries me - not that I am too busy but that I say I am too busy.
Everybody these days says they're too busy. Have you noticed? If someone doesn't reply to an e-mail or participate in a school meeting, their excuse is invariably "Sorry, I am just so busy."
The problem is, as an excuse, it has gotten old. It is the adult version of "the dog ate my homework."
To beg off doing something like, say, returning a phone call, because you're too busy is like not brushing your teeth because your gums hurt.
(I have no idea, by the way, if that sentence makes sense. You think you're busy? I am too busy to check my similes for logic.)
You know what "too busy" is? It's the new inconsideration. That's all.
Let me tell you a story about busy.
Years ago, the phone rang in my house. I picked up the receiver. It was Lee Atwater.
Who was Lee Atwater? A really busy guy, that's who.
Atwater, who died in 1991, was the most famous - and, some argue, the most effective - political strategist who ever lived. Except for maybe Machiavelli, to whom Atwater was often compared. He didn't shrink from the comparison; he embraced it.
Back in 1988, he was the Svengali behind the first George Bush's presidential victory. If it had been a sporting event, that campaign would have yielded its own ESPN highlights special - or, to detractors, lowlights. The campaign ran two political ads that are considered classics, if you will, of the spinmeister's dark art of negative advertising. One tied the policies of Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis to a man who became nearly as famous as Dukakis: Willie Horton, a prison inmate who killed a person while out on furlough. The other showed a cartoonishly helmeted Dukakis in a tank, going around in circles.
After overcoming a 17-point deficit in the polls in the late summer, Bush went on to coast to victory.
But the point isn't Atwater's success. The point is he was a guy who knew busy. He received, he told me, roughly 400 messages a day.That's not just busy, that's on intimate terms with busy.
He slept four hours a night.
And, he told me, he returned all his calls.
Now, for all I know, he was spinning. Maybe he received only 200 calls a day. Or maybe he returned only half the calls he received.There's no way to know.
All I do know is that he did get a ton of calls. And he returned one from me - some guy he'd never heard of. He could easily have been "too busy" to call back, but there he was, the most significant political operative of his time, on the phone with me.
So here is what I take from that: If Atwater can do it, anybody can.
The other problem with "I'm busy" is that nobody believes it anymore.
Not accepting falsehood imperils the social order. That's because the basis for civilized society rests in allowing for acceptable fabrication. People don't leave dinner parties because they are deadly boring, but because "Whew, look at the time - we have to get up early tomorrow."
Polite mendacity lubricates the machinery of human interaction. Without it, we are no better than most animals.
So in a bid to help us as a society maintain civility and thus our position near the top of the animal kingdom, I want to help develop a few new, believable excuses.
Here are some ideas:
- "Sorry, but you're just not important enough."
- "I'm too self-absorbed to call you back or to help out."
- "I generally figure if you want something done, let somebody else do it."
Oops, sorry. Those aren’t excuses. Those are the real deals. Let me try again:
- “I wish I could help, but the ISP ate my hard drive.”
- “You e-mailed? My BlackBerry has been on the fritz.”
- “I was on my way to the meeting, but my Prius had a short.”
I’d have thought of more, but I was just too busy.
Hey, I have an idea. How ’bout if we all forget that we’re busy? That way, maybe this year we’ll get something done.