Busy-ness

One of myfavourite books is the 2-volume History of Greek Philisophy. This isn’t an academic treatise, but a popular outline by the Neapolitan writer Luciano de Crescenzo. Its charming, informative and I’ve treasured them for nearly 20 years.

In his introduction to the 1st volume, de Crescenzo discusses the Greek word agorazein which means, ‘to betake oneself to the market place to see what people are saying’and ‘to sally forth with no precise scope, to stroll about in the sunshine until dinner time’. One of the issues with the decline of the the brick-and-mortar bookshop is the easy availability of ordering online. I wonder whether our busy-ess is another.

I remember as a student spending hours in 2nd hand bookshop, emerging with a small number of purchases (or larger – sometimes), but having spent ages poring over the shelves, chatting with the owner and generally browsing to no purpose. I went hoping to find something, but I wouldn’t go in order to find something in particular. If I came away with nothing, it was because nothing presented itself.

Today I generally don’t give myself the time to do that anymore. But agorazein is not just a pleasant diversion. Chance encounters and conversations help to build community. Unstructured wandering lets you discover new things. Time alone lets ideas pop into your head.

Being busy means that you’re (probably) getting things done. Which is good. Getting things done is necessary. But indulging in agorazein – at home or at work – might help us discover why were doing them. And whether we ought to be.

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