Quick - hit the 'breaks'

In a mad-dash 24/7 world, a few people are resisting the rush, moving slowly amid the rat race

Life-changing experiences take many forms. For Carl Honoré, a Canadian journalist, the moment of truth came when he read an article about "One-Minute Bedtime Stories." Weary of nightly struggles with his 2-year-old son, who loved long stories told slowly, his heart leapt. At last! A way to shave precious minutes off parental bedtime duty!

But reason quickly prevailed. Honoré realized that his whole life was "an exercise in hurry." He had become "Scrooge with a stopwatch, obsessed with saving every last scrap of time, a minute here, a few seconds there." There must be a better way to live, he reasoned. But how?

A self-described "speedaholic," Honoré packed his bags and began racking up thousands of frequent-flier miles, studying the prospects for slowing down in a world obsessed with going fast. Beginning with an Italian-born movement called Slow Food, based on the premise that cooking and eating should be leisurely, Honoré found groups and individuals trying to regain a sense of well-being and pleasure.

Out of that mission came his engaging new book, "In Praise of Slowness," which delivers an urgent message: Slow down and enjoy life.

In America's 24/7 culture the pace has become so intense, Honoré charges, that we have forgotten how to enjoy the moment. In restaurants, we pay the bill and order a taxi while eating dessert. We sleep too little and work too long, hardly daring to take time off. ("Vacationitis," he calls it.) We overprogram our children, creating stress in those as young as 5.

The solution? Balance - the heart of the Slow movement's philosophy.

In his appealing first-person approach, Honoré offers a you-are-there view of global efforts to challenge the "false god" of speed. Everywhere, he sees evidence of "a great hunger for slowness:" The popularity of gardening, book clubs, and knitting reflects a longing for a more relaxed pace.

In England, he spends a day at a Speed Awareness Program - penance for a speeding ticket - learning, not always successfully, how to tame a heavy accelerator foot. He retreats to rural Wiltshire for three days of meditation. He and his wife even enroll in a class on Slow Sex.

In Italy, Honoré enjoys a four-hour Slow Food dinner. In Germany, he hears a group called Tempo Giusto play Mozart and others more slowly. And in Japan, he visits a school called Apple Time, founded by desperate parents as a "slow school" alternative to high-stress classes.

In his zeal to include every example he can find, Honoré occasionally risks overstating his case. He breathlessly calls SuperSlow "the weightlifting movement sweeping North America and beyond." Sweeping?

For all its benefits, living Slow remains a luxury unavailable to many. Four-hour dinners are expensive, as are alternative schools. And middle-class workers often can't afford to cut their hours to enjoy more time at home. Yet such quibbles do not detract from Honoré's provocative message.

In a fast-lane culture where efficiency is king, he insists that devotees of Slow are not Luddites. Nor are they backward or technophobic. Slow and Fast do not have to represent an either-or choice. Who wants to give up jet travel or the Internet?

Ever the realist, Honoré cautions that decelerating "will be a struggle until we rewrite the rules that govern almost every sphere of life - the economy, the workplace, urban design, education, medicine. This will take a canny mix of gentle persuasion, visionary leadership, tough legislation, and international consensus."

The most important question, Honoré says, comes down to this: "What is life for?" Making a persuasive case for balance, he adds, "To let work take over our lives is folly. There are too many important things that need time, such as friends, hobbies, and rest." That also includes the children like his son who hunger at bedtime for "just one more story" - preferably a long one.

Marilyn Gardner writes about family issues for the Monitor.

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