Overload is not having time to finish the book you’re reading on stress. Margin is having time to read
it twice. Overload is fatigue. Margin is energy. Overload is red link. Margin is black ink. Overload is hurry. margin is calm. Overload is anxiety. Margin is security. Overload is the disease of our time. Margin is the cure.
So reads the back cover of Richard Swenson’s book.
Swenson, an MD, knows what life can be like when lived without margin. He saw patients daily who were stressed, depressed and exhausted – not just physically but mentally, financially and emotionally. And this is becoming a norm for 21st century living. Why? For Swenson the absence of margin is linked to the march of progress. There are five axiom’s which for Swenson reveals why margin has disappeared for many.
- Progress works by differentiating our environment, thus always giving us more and more of everything faster and faster.
- The spontaneous flow of progress is toward increasing stress, change, complexity, speed, intensity and overload.
- All humans have physical, mental, emotional and financial limits that are relatively fixed
- The profusion of progress is on a collision course with human limits. Once the threshold of these limits is exceeded, overload displaces margin
- On the unsaturated side of their limits, humans can be open and expansive. On the saturated side of these limits, however, the rules of life totally change.
Swenson is not anti-progress – quite the opposite in fact. Nor, for the most part, does he see stress, change, complexity, speed, intensity and overload as enemies. But when stress becomes distress, change becomes fear, complexity becomes unsolvable, speed becomes out of control and overload becomes crushed then margin has gone and life is now maxed out. And that is when we are danger.
We all need space to breathe, freedom to think and time to heal and develop deep relationships. But for so many people life is maxed out and so there is no space. Life goes from one event to the next without time to stop for significant space. He writes:
Progress’s biggest failure has been its inability to nurture and protect right relationships. if progress had helped here, I would have no quarrel with it. [P]rogress builds by using the tools of economics, education and technology. But what are the tools of the relational life? Are they not the social (my relationship with others), the emotional (my relationship to myself), and the spiritual (my relationship to God)? None of the tools of progress has helped build the relational foundation our society requires.
Swenson’s book is an appeal for re-direction, to stop and take stock. When our physical bodies reach their limit they hurt or even break and we realize very quickly that there is a problem. However, when we reach our limit emotionally, or mentally we tend not to realize it until we breakdown, by which time damage is often done.
Swenson’s book gives wonderful tools and suggestions for regaining margin back into life. There is a cost to regaining margin – a cost which Swenson himself happily paid and is now living a life which has margin.