Efficiency… Really?

A bit I read today…

When a journalist asked Thomas Merton to diagnose the leading spiritual disease of our time, the monk gave a curious one-word answer: Efficiency.


“From the monastery to the Pentagon, the plant has to run… and there is little time or energy left over after that to do anything else.”


A part of me feels what he’s describing.  Another part of me says, “Yeah, but what do you suggest?”  A third part of me just says, “Jay, take this much to heart–make sure you spend yourself on what you deem most worthwhile.  If you don’t, how you get spent will be determined by forces outside of yourself.  And these forces are not likely to care whether they’re lining up with your Maker’s wishes for your life or not.  You’ll have to exercise that control yourself.”

Any part of you responding to Mr. Merton?


3 thoughts on “Efficiency… Really?

  1. A couple thoughts:

    1) I would respond that a better word that still describes what he is talking about is “production”. We are often obsessed and addicting to producing, getting things done, and just doing in general. Many times we tie it into who we are, we need to “do” to feel like we are valuable. A good example is when someone is asked to introduce themselves, they will almost invariably include what they do to earn income in describing who they are.

    2) I don’t think efficiency itself is bad, especially for some things. It’s that we tend to apply the idea to more and more areas of our lives that maybe shouldn’t be sped up.

    The more efficient I am in, say, household chores, the more time I have to do something else. It does however require me to consciously choose which things I am going to work at being more efficient at and which things I am going to use that extra time on. And in some things(maybe many) the journey is more important than reaching a goal. The key is to know which ones. I think it’s safe to say that anything to do with relationships, be it with people or our creator, efficiency should not factor in.

    I like this quote by Robert Pirsig: “I don’t want to hurry it, that itself is a poisonous 20th century attitude. When you want to hurry something, that means you no longer care about it and want to get on to other things.

  2. I read a quote recently (can’t remember where, sorry) that said something to the affect of “We live our lives at a speed that demands perfection from ourselves, our bodies, our spouses, our children, our cars… everything has to run perfectly in order to do everything we are trying to do. There’s no room for illness, or for our own imperfections, let alone others.”

    If by efficiency he means, no room for error (or reflection, or relationships, or…), then ya, I’m inclined to agree. I have been finding in my own life lately that my quest for efficiency often leaves me in spiritually poor health.

    Of course, I still think TV is bigger spiritual disease, but close enough 🙂


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