Could simple stress reducing solutions be the answers to our myriad modern problems?
Urban sprawl and suburban flight are causing massive traffic jams on freeways nationwide, as individuals are working longer and longer hours. The invisible effect is a nation buckling under accumulating stress that affects parents, children, and society in budget busting and heart wrenching ways.
70% of all illness is due to unmanaged stress according to the National Institute of Mental Health (US). Longer work hours and thickening traffic are part of the problem, but it goes deeper. Family stresses are piled onto this work/traffic stress. Children are often left on their own between 3 PM and 7 PM, after they get out of school and while their parents are working or fighting traffic. Tragically, and not coincidentally, this is when most crime is committed.
Our national crime costs are near $500 billion per year, while our health care costs are $1 trillion per year. Our system's buckling from trying to repair damage that is already done to our bodies, our children, and our society, through backend spending on health problems and prison/court/enforcement costs. How can we deal with the front end, before these problems occur?
What if we went to the root of these stress related problems. Many children turn to the drugs and alcohol, which is behind most youth crime, for "stress management." Their lives are increasingly stressful in a rapidly changing world, and their parents are unavailable, battling their own stress issues and the lives that cause them. So, how could we affect the root problem, or stress? Government can play a powerful role in affecting this deteriorating situation, by affecting the direction of our economic development.
Tens of millions of Americans could begin working several days a week at home, telecommuting via the Internet. The technology is there, yet companies and employees do not utilize it. Government could provide tax incentives to companies to establish telecommuting days for employees. Dollars would be saved immediately on traffic costs, road wear, and emergency care as millions are taken off the hi ways daily. Air would immediately become cleaner, reducing the alarming increase in asthma problems nationwide. But, the most important benefit would be a national sigh of relief as parents and children can relax more around the demands of job and family. A parent who works 8 hours from home, rather than fighting an hour or two of freeway traffic, working 8 hours, and then fighting the same traffic to get home too late to truly relax, brings an entirely different parent home to the children. This may help a parent be one who has time to "be there" to help with the challenges of life our children face.
This would not only affect telecommuting parents, but others who must drive or bus to work will find the roadways much clearer and less polluted, leaving them healthier and less stressed when they get home much earlier than before. However, the other issue affecting all is the one of hours worked. Too many Americans are skipping breaks, and working way past the 8 hour work day that our ancestors sometimes fought and died for. Breaks and 8 hour work days were not fought for because our forefathers and mothers had nothing better to do. They were established because this limitation of work to find balance in life is "essential" to our quality of life. Again, when most crime is committed between the time school lets out and the time parents get home and we are building and filling prisons faster than ever before in our history, it is time to "take a deep breath." It is time to reevaluate how we are living.
We must decide whether human beings should be squeezed into a matrix that does not nurture us or our children, or whether we use the emerging technology to redefine our lives to flow around us like a soothing healing balm. We are entering an age of technological miracles that can provide an extraordinary quality of life -- if we choose to use these tools for that. However, right now the opposite is occurring, as stress overwhelms us and 70% of illness and the six leading causes of death are the result of stress. With the dawn of the information/computer age the average worker is many times more productive than their counterparts decades ago, yet we are working longer hours for little more money. How do we change this? First of all by lifting our heads up to see beyond "what is" -- to see what "could be."
There is an extraordinary book called Flatland. The main character is a one-dimensional worm who crawls through a groove seeing only the butt of the one-dimensional worm in front of him. This is his world. But, then one day he suddenly on impulse turns to the side, and finds a whole new two dimensional world expanding outward, left, right, front and back. This blows his mind and he goes wild and discovers that he can "lift up" off the two dimensional plane his expanded world had become into a "three-dimensional" reality. He can look DOWN, and look UP, and see LEFT, and RIGHT, and a whole new world expands all around him. But, when he goes back to his one-dimensional world, his peers think he's gone crazy dreaming up these ridiculous possibilities of an "expanded world."
Our society is at a point with the level of technological development to lift up from "the way we are doing things." We can literally redefine our society to fit human needs. A compassionate economy can unfold within, throughout and all about us, until we see crime and health care costs whither, and surpluses growing, effortlessly and simply by learning to live in ways that "feel good."