For what are Joe Namath and J. J. Walker currently most known? If you replied, “NFL quarterback and comedic sitcom star,” you’d be wrong — because I asked for what they are currently most known. They are now best known for their hyper-caffeinated advertising pitches for Medicare supplement programs. With the possible exception of congressional hearings on C-SPAN, if you are watching broadcast or cable television, it’s hard to escape the urgent pleas of Namath and Walker to check your ZIP code to see if you qualify to save monnnnnnney!, to use Walker’s pronunciation. In some of the earlier examples of their pitch, they end the ad by saying “It’s Free!” Still, does the contraction “it’s” refer to the program, which may be a big deal, or are they simply telling you the phone call is free? I’m not as concerned with the possible ambiguity of their pitch, nor do I care one way or another what they are selling. It’s the smothering urgency that has me riled. So, when the TV station breaks away from the anxiety-inducing coverage of the war in the Ukraine or the ever-increasing prices on everything from beer to gas, we’re subjected to Joe and J. J. along with a host of other shrill sellers urging for us to act now. Is it any wonder people are so edgy these days?
I’ve mentioned several times in this space how many of us now insist on instant results and replies to just about any inquiry. My father told me that during World War II it took upwards of six weeks for the letters my parents wrote to each other to finally arrive. Today if someone doesn’t reply to a text or an email within minutes, ominous thoughts about their friendships take root. In answer to the question, “Why doesn’t he or she reply?” a host of rational answers come to mind, the first of which may be that the other person may actually have a life outside the little orbit of the breathless sender. I know that’s harsh, but there is a world out there beyond the handheld devices and TV screens, just waiting to be explored.
Charles E. Hummel coined a phrase that perfectly characterizes what I’m writing about. He called it the “tyranny of the urgent,” which he describes in a little monograph by the same name. His message is about time management, and it’s given in the context of the Christian faith, but his message about the habit of setting aside the important things because of the insistence of the urgent, applies to just about anyone in the age of instant communications. He quotes an acquaintance, a factory manager, who says, “your greatest danger is letting the urgent things crowd out the important.” Often the important things take time, and the rewards are often not immediate, but will be realized in the course of time. In short, they can be put off. While urgent tasks often call for an immediate response, like Joe and J. J. urging you to call now.
With decent spring weather in the offing, we are no longer imprisoned inside, where Joe and J. J. await on TV. So, take a walk with the phone turned off, or sit outside and read a book. Give yourself the time to consider what is important away from the demands of the urgent.