The Slow-Care Movement

2016 January 6

In almost every context of contemporary life, people are in a rush. There are so many things to do and so many things to accomplish—multi-tasking, we are told, is a necessity.  Multi-tasking has become so revered that prospective employees list it as an accomplishment on resumes, advertising their ability and willingness to simultaneously divide attention amongst multiple people and activities.  While researchers have explored the effects of multi-tasking on the brain, multi-tasking also affects how we orient ourselves to others.  Here are some common but often overlooked relational side-effects associated with multi-tasking:

  • Multitasking becomes code for a fear of commitment. Everyone is guilty of interacting with others halfway. Few of us have developed the capacity to be with another person without trying to escape—mentally that is. The need to single-focus is too much pressure, we tell ourselves. If we are fully present and focused, too much will be at stake. We must have a way out, a way to protect ourselves. So we constantly check Facebook and can’t help ourselves from examining our latest texts. Our discomfort with single-focused attention reveals an unwillingness to risk the possibility of silence and awkwardness sometimes associated with undiluted attention. Radical attention is frightening because it signals complete commitment to a particular moment, leaving us vulnerable to what might be discovered if we temporarily free ourselves from thinking about what’s next.


  • People become tasks to be managed and accomplished. Busyness requires shortcuts, and so when the people we meet and know become categorized as contacts, quickly added and listed in our phones by organization and title, referenced by whom they work for and what future benefit they might serve, it’s not surprising that relationships are often reduced to self-interest. This multi-tasking orientation encourages viewing relationships only in terms of personal gain and what people represent, rather than allowing us to learn about who people are as individuals. When we are too purpose-driven in our relational orientation, people become objects to be managed, treated as strategic pawns for personal gain, limiting the possibility of something spontaneous emerging from the fact that fully being with another might be reason enough.


  • Focus asks too much of me. When the temptation to escape the moment emerges, we convince ourselves that we must do so to be available to others. “I have to have my phone nearby, what if I get a work call?” “What if my kids call?” “What if someone needs me?” In the process, the ring of our phone and sound of an incoming text is viewed with greater urgency than the person we are with. We have become so accustomed to responding to others’ needs that we have become uncomfortable allowing ourselves the opportunity to develop and intensify relationships with the people before us. There will always be another email waiting. Another voicemail. A text asking for your divided attention. Always. A moment to be shared with the person in front of us, however, is always fleeting. If we willingly allow ourselves to believe that everything we need is present in that given moment, we also permit ourselves to temporarily neglect the world’s concerns and attune ourselves to the shared truths before us.


Just as the slow food movement asks us to be aware of the processes involved in the food we create and eat, caregivers appreciate the process of relationships in ways most others don’t.  The multitasking world asks us to be divided, disjointed, and over-committed, running to and from one task to the next, oftentimes forgetting where we are and whom we are with, leaving us empty and hungry, unwilling and incapable of being satisfied with who is in front of us.

On the other hand, caregiving relationships teach us to be whole, complete, and single-focused because these relationships require all parts of us to be present and attuned to the person we are engaged with. We don’t list this remarkably rare capacity on our LinkedIn profiles or resumes as a skill-set, we simply call it caring with love.  It’s what you’ve been doing for a long time; slow-care for another that acknowledges the preciousness of attention. You and your slow care attention are indeed extraordinary.

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