Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Fast and slow.

Years ago, in the bad-old-days of New York City, I got a pro-bono assignment to work on preventing suicide among New York City cops.

Our key contact was an Inspector called Ray Kelly, who later on became New York’s 41st Police Commissioner.

This was in the mid-80s when New York was averaging between five and seven murders a week and police sirens filled the city’s noise-scape the way swallows chirp when they come back to Capistrano. If, in those years, you hadn’t been burgled or mugged or assaulted yourself, you knew someone who had been.

My partner and I spent a day with Inspector Kelly going all over the city and trying to learn what it was that drove cops to put a bullet in their temple. We naturally assumed the daily threat of a violent death was to blame.

When we asked Kelly, we found out it wasn’t that at all.

“It’s boredom,” Kelly said. “It’s long days of dullness, weeks of dullness, punctuated by six seconds of absolute terror.”

I thought about this conversation today—some 32 years after it took place, as I’m sitting in a sandalwood-scented conference room, looking at wardrobe etc. prior to a pre-pro meeting.

A lot of life is working incredibly hard. But a lot life also includes a lot of downtime. In fact, when humans were essentially agricultural creatures it was thought they could feed their families—assuming they had decent land—on as few of three or four hours a day of work. The toil we today associate with farming comes primarily from the trade switching from subsistence to capitalistic.

In fact until the advent of factory work, time-clocks and efficiency-experts, it was unusual for people to work all of the time they were at work.

I think if you get right down to it, we’re like animals. We chase down a gazelle, that takes an hour or so. Then we spend the rest of the day, maybe the rest of the week, eating and belching.

My point is fairly simple. You have to learn to go with the flow of work. There are times of intensity, and other times where things are pretty flat-lined with occasional spikes that you have to adjust to.

There are days when you write your fingers to the bone.

And others where you wait till the work comes at you.

You have to learn to regulate your heart-rate the way fish do. Sometimes you're best-suited resting on the bottom of the pond, slowing your pulse down to four beats a minute and preserving your sanity.

It'll make life so much easier when the opposite end of the spectrum comes into play.


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