What Have We Sacrificed at the Altar of Efficiency?
September 22, 2010 1 Comment
I don’t recall why I decided to actually get out of my car walk into the bank a few days ago. I guess I wasn’t in a rush that day. Aside from setting up an account, I had never set foot in this particular bank. Why would I need to? I could do all of my banking either by going online or by using the drive-thru ATM. It is so much more efficient that way.
To be efficient is to produce effectively with a minimum of waste, expense or unnecessary effort. Efficiency is as American as apple pie!
My goal was to withdraw some money. Getting out of my car would be inefficient. Walking into the bank would be inefficient. Talking to the teller and other people in the bank would be extremely inefficient. And it was. Instead of taking one minute at the ATM, I took 15 minutes in the bank. Some might call me unpatriotic for my un-American s-l-o-w approach.
But, what have we Americans sacrificed at the altar of efficiency?
One thing we have sacrificed is community relationships. In sociology it is called “Gesellschaft.” A Gesellschaft society is one in which the focus is on short-term relationships, individual accomplishments and self-interest. My 18 year-old daughter recently wrote a short paper for her sociology class in which she points out the “Gesellschaft” aspects of her community:
Because I live in a semi-rural area most people have long commutes to work, which also reduces the time that they are in the community. Neighbors also live further apart. There are at least 2 acres between each house. People seem to want their own privacy where I live. Also, there are no sidewalks, so it is difficult to walk over to a neighbor’s home. It is kind of funny that the only time I see my neighbors is when they are backing out of their driveways to go to work or when they are mowing the lawn. I look out over the neighborhood of beautiful lawns and no people.
Years ago, when I visited Honduras on a mission trip, I remember feeling annoyed at how lazy the locals seemed. Their neighborhoods were filled with ugly, trash-strewn lawns and crowds of people. Couldn’t some of them spend a little time cleaning up? And why couldn’t they show up on time? And why did everyone seem to move so slowly? And then I noticed how much time they spent with each other, and how they helped each other. For as little as they had, they were very generous. Local women pitched in to help with the cooking and even gave up some of their own plates and pots so that we visiting missionaries would have what we needed. They provided a stark contrast to the Gesellschaft society–they were a Gemeinschaft community. A Gemeinschaft community is an intimate community in which everybody knows each other. It is a community in which personal ties, kinship connection and lifelong friendships are important.
So, on that day that I decided to walk in the bank, I took a step toward Gemeinschaft. While I was withdrawing money, I noticed an award sitting at the teller’s station. I noticed that the teller’s name, Cindy, was on the award. So, I asked her about it. Fortunately, the bank was mostly deserted (everyone else was using the drive-thru), so we had several minutes to chat. I heard about how she had won the award for customer service by putting in a little extra effort to get to know people and to make them feel special. She even showed me the fun sayings she had written on the cash return envelops that she gave to customers. Every customer felt special around Cindy, me included.
I’m glad I was inefficient. Maybe I’ll be inefficient more often.