Urgent–In Whose Eyes?

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I took the photo above myself.  Can you guess what it is?

When I saw the item where you would find the phrase, I immediately thought to myself, “This is worth blogging about some day.” And that is precisely how the photo ended up on my phone and eventually in the download folder (the repository of all things to be blogged someday) on my computer.

It made me pause – as many things do – because of its potential power over me.  If we say things a certain way, the listener (or reader) of the message may feel more compelled to do what we say.  And “URGENT” is one of those words that compels me to follow the directions of whatever it is that has that word stamped on it.

The photo is of a mere envelope. The contents of the envelope ask me, as the dean of students at an online school, to provide the requester with information about the student, and this information most likely will determine if the student will continue to receive financial benefits.  Depending upon how I respond, the student may or may not continue to receive those benefits.

This is a lot of responsibility!  With a mere response, I determine the financial fate of the student. The problem is that I often have information that would stop students from receiving financial benefits.  I am not the cause of this information; I am merely the one who provides truth to the requester.

But that is not how many students see this.  I often receive phone calls with content such as the following: “You made me lose my monthly stipend.”

Well, actually, that is not true. That monthly stipend depended upon full-time attendance at a school, and the student chose not to attend.  I had nothing to do with that!

But that is really not the point that I want to share in today’s post.  It is this idea of urgency, how it compels us, and how we need to step back and consider before we give in simply due to a word.

The envelope pictured above is one of many “urgent” envelopes that I receive each week.  This is in addition to the “urgent” emails, phone calls, and office visits that I receive each week.  In fact, one would believe that everything that I do is urgent based on the piles in my office, the emails in my inbox, and the phone messages.

There are times that I even give in to this sense of urgency and cruise through all of these urgent requests, clearing off my desk, cleaning out my inbox, and returning phone calls.  I understand that financial assistance is often urgent, and I do my best to attend to these matters with that mindset.  It can be hard, however, when everything on my desk is marked urgent.  When that happens, I do them in the order in which they were received.  The idea is that urgent matters should be handled in sort of a first-come, first-served fashion.

My favorite phone message about these urgent matters goes something like this: “This is [student].  I have these papers that you were supposed to sign and turn in last week, but I forgot to send them to you.  Could you take care of this today? I don’t have access to a fax machine, though, so can I just bring them to your office?”

Did I mention that the call usually happens on Friday at 4:30 p.m.?  “I’m sorry, but no.”

I am starting to believe that nothing is truly urgent – unless chest pains or bones sticking through skin are involved.

But we live in an urgent society.  We urgently need food (McDonalds), we urgently need to stay in touch with one another (texting), and we urgently need to be the center of the universe (Facebook and, dare I say it, blogging).  We fill our lives full of urgent moments and need transportation to get there (cars – one per person now…).  In fact, what is considered urgent may actually just be a change of plans to something that is more fun than the obligations that I have agreed to in the past.

And our urgency spills over into our relationships.  You need to meet my needs right now regardless of your schedule for the day, of poor planning on my part, or of lack of follow through on my part when I say “yes” to one thing but then another (preferable) option comes along.

I do not have an answer to any of this, but urgency is making me tired!

Unfortunately, I often am an urgency hurricane and am the cause of others’ urgency fatigue.  In a little manic conversation, I can cover quite a bit of ground (verbally), create grandiose plans (let’s cure all of the world’s problems!), and get another person’s heartbeat going (or nearly stopping from all of the urgency).  More often than not, though, these plans do not come to fruition, and I am just tired from the thinks.

When we place demands on one another with little planning or consideration for others, we are not helping anyone – including ourselves.  We all need to learn to take a breath every now and then, to consider the cost of our request or the giving in to the requests of others, and to slow down in our approach to life.

I am not advocating for us all to become couch potatoes, but I am advocating for us to consider if we have time for ourselves, our families, and God in addition to all of the “urgent” parts of our lives.  When I do not carve out time for my family or for God, I need to ask myself if all of this urgency is really as urgent as it seems.  The needs of others may need to wait, and – more likely – a consideration of whether it is truly a need at all may be required.

This consideration seems urgent to me because fatigue caused by this concept creeps its way into me.  I would like to think that the end of the school year does this to everyone, but there has to be a more balanced way to approach life so that the end of the school is not such a relief and so that the beginning of the next school year – only weeks away – does not create so much dread.

What do you think? 

Can we live differently, expect differently, and respond differently? 

Or has our society taken over at such a rate that everything really is urgent?

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