Defining slow

I blame the pig. Or maybe I should thank the pig. Have you ever used a word, a common, ordinary, everyday sort of word, only to realize that this word, this most basic, seemingly average word, has a very different, possibly life-altering meaning to someone else?

You wake up one day, and through a series of conversations and decisions, and maybe even a few conflicts, it suddenly dawns on you that you this other person have been using the same word – but interrupting its meaning very differently – for years. Maybe even decades.

And the moment this awareness hits you, is the moment you find yourself standing on opposite sides of some decision, (major or minor, it doesn’t really matter) using the very same word to defend your argument.

Defining slowAnd boom! That is when it occurs to you, that while you thought you were both following the same meaning of the same word, using it as a road map for entire your life together, you were actually trekking along on two separate paths – paths separated so narrowly, that you never even noticed, until you found yourself separated by a pond, or a lake or a gulf. A gulf of assumptions, confusion, and frustration, a chasm that began with a small, hairline misunderstanding of one word, so small that no one even noticed until this moment.

For my husband and I the word was slow and the decision was about a pig.

Slowness, Going Slow, Slowing Down; we have tossed these words and terms around for the past three or four years. We have used them to create our family motto, to make financial decisions – large and small, and to plan vacations.

We have used them when changing career paths, our children’s schools, when choosing a house. We have used them to describe to each other the sort of life that we long for.  I have written about them all over the internet and we have extolled the virtues of slowness to our friends and family.

But it turns out that for all the years we have talked about Living Slow, what Nathan was saying was Let’s Do Less, and what I was saying was Let’s Do It Differently.

When I dreamed of slowing downWhen I dreamed of slowing down, I dreamed of living in such a way that the anxiety producing ticking time-bomb inside my chest would finally fade away, quietly and without incident.  This didn’t necessarily always mean doing less or doing more, it just meant doing things differently.

It meant living life with more intention. With clearer vision. It meant making choices without the constant nagging burden of comparisons and rat races and keeping up with whatever it was I thought I needed to keep up with. I wanted to live slowly internally.

When Nathan dreamed of slowing down, he literally dreamed of things in our life slowing down externally. Less to-do list, less outside obligations, less momentum, less busy-ness. His version of Living Slow was centered much more around the tangible actions of our family’s day-to-day life.

It was the week that I brought a baby potbellied pig home unannounced (I should never be allowed to look at Facebook freebies when I am that hyped up on vacation adrenaline) that the gulf between our understandings of the phrase Living Slow made themselves known.

Defining slowIn his early days with us, Winston, while admittedly an adorable pink spotted bundle of piggy cuteness, did absolutely nothing to slow our lives down internally or externally. In fact for a season, his presence actually increased my anxiety and Nathan’s busy-ness, throwing both of our Living Slow agendas under the bus, and smashing them into a thousand shards of blame and resentment that we used to poke at each other.

Eventually, after a few rounds of If Only You Would and Had You Not and Why Didn’t You, Nathan and I realized that the real root of our issue was not Winston, but instead with how differently we had defined the word slow, and how these separate interpretations had been informing our individual choices, unbeknownst to each other.

It was the classic light-bulb Oprah-Aha Come-to-Jesus moment.

After nineteen years of marriage, we still have a lot to learn, but this much we are sure of: Our relationship and our home are much happier places when we focus more on supporting each other, and less on trying to reform each other.

So, instead of trying to convert the other to our way of thinking, we are working towards creating a new definition of Living Slow together. One that has our family’s well-being at heart, instead of just our personal preferences.

One that will help us choose between all the good things that life offers us (like adorable and free potbellied pigs) and what is truly best for our family, as we honor both the internal and external ways of living slow, together on the same path.

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9 Comments

  1. Seana Turner

    Love this post! It is the perfect example of the incredible depth and complexity that is communication. Even a well understood word can mean different things to different people, not only to strangers, but to those we know well. I often wonder if it is possible to “over-communicate”.. I am leaning towards no. Thanks for sharing (from a fellow Greer…my maiden name!)

  2. AnnMarie Johnson

    My husband and I had one of these moments when we talked about “moving to the country.” I come from the country: I grew up a mile outside a small town of 6,000 people. To me, the country meant moving out among farms, neighbors a ways away, town at least a mile away. Then we were driving through a small town (over 15,000, not so small to me!), and my husband referred to moving there, and I suddenly discovered that his “the country” meant a town no smaller than 15,000, and NOT outside of any such town!

    (We’ve now come to discover that we actually both want to live in town, a city of 60k is fine, and we just want to be close enough to walk/bike to library, groceries, farmer’s market, etc.)

  3. Karen

    I LOVE THIS!! And I can tell you that after 30 years of marriage we are still learning too….. 🙂

  4. Sonia

    I love that you stopped blaming each other and worked it out together. That you are still together in spite of the years of unknown misunderstanding. Thank you for that wonderful example.

  5. Jamie

    I have experienced this in my marriage– actually we’re still experiencing it. We’re doing a small house renovation, and my husband and I are doing a lot of the interior work ourselves. I don’t have a vocabulary for house renovations so I use words that make sense to me, but aren’t necessarily the correct words, it’s causes confusion and frustration because we don’t understand each other. It’s definitely been a learning process for both us in communication as well as house construction.

  6. Dan Erickson

    I think both kinds of “slowing down” are important. In fact, I think they go together. I shared this post on my FB fan page yesterday. I also blog about simple living at Hip Diggs: Live Simple. Check it out if you get a chance and keep the great work spreading the message.

  7. Guest

    WOW! You have articulated what I haven’t been able to. I look at “slow” as an intentional, thoughtful way of living that reduces my struggles with anxiety. I’m not sure how my husband views these things but will be asking!

  8. June

    I have had this experience recently! It was really helpful to realize the different definitions.

  9. Anna

    I’ve had a few of those moments. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your story.

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