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'Slow movement' wants you to ease up, chill out

  • Story Highlights
  • "Slow movement" says fast lifestyle destroys health, families, communities
  • Supporters call for laws mandating paid vacations, election days off
  • Take Back Your Time coordinator: Slowing down will save lives, save democracy
  • TimeBanks USA creator began group in 1980 after heart attack from frenzied lifestyle
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By John Blake
CNN
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(CNN) -- Edgar S. Cahn is fighting for your right to be lazy.

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The slow movement backs random acts of slowness, such as turning off the BlackBerry or spending time with friends.

Other activists might devote their time to reversing global warming or saving the whales. But the 73-year-old attorney is battling to preserve a commodity that he says is more fragile than the environment and more precious than oil -- time.

Cahn is a leader in the "slow movement," a national campaign that claims that speed kills. Its leaders say that Americans are so starved for time, our need for speed is destroying our health, families and communities.

They say we live in a culture in which being overworked has become a status symbol. Cahn created TimeBanks USA, a nonprofit group that treats time as money, to put the brakes on people's high-velocity lifestyles.

TimeBanks members barter blocks of time known as "time dollars." One member may, for example, buy groceries for a stranger in exchange for someone else walking their dog. See a calculator to assess how you spend work and personal time »

"Time is the most precious thing we have," he says. "Every hour you live, you never get back."

Slow movement members don't fit one profile. They're journalists, lawyers, chefs, farmers. Yet they cite the same factors for our inability to slow down: longer work hours, longer commutes and technological advances like BlackBerrys that keep many employees chained to work.

They suggest people combat "time famine" by practicing random acts of slowness: turning off the BlackBerry, cooking unhurried meals with friends, cultivating a garden and taking long walks.

Some have even formed groups to encourage individuals and businesses to save time. They include:

• The Long Now Foundation, a group based in San Francisco, California, was established to provide an alternative to a "faster/cheaper" mind set and promote "slower/better" thinking.

• Take Back Your Time, a nonprofit group based in Seattle, Washington, is leading a national campaign to address time famine by using conferences and teach-ins to wean people off their need to be busy.

• Slow Food USA is a nonprofit group that offers an alternative to fast-food eating and industrial food production. It encourages members to plan communal meals and use farmer's markets. It has at least 80,000 members in 100 countries.

Cahn, from TimeBanks USA, says he came up with the idea for time banks in 1980 after he suffered a massive heart attack from a frenzied lifestyle that included being a speech writer and the founder of a national legal services program and a law school.

Time, he thought as he recovered, doesn't have any monetary value attached to it. One can't deposit a block of time in the bank or buy a loaf of bread with it. Yet it's essential to have enough of it to live well and make democracy work, he says.

"The market doesn't value what it takes to build community or democracy or to fight for social justice," he says.

The slow movement is not just content with saving people time, though. It's ultimately about shifting people's values, Cahn says.

"The movement is about how we value things other than how fast we can consume and how much we can accumulate," he says.

It's also about changing public policy, other slow movement leaders say.

John de Graaf, national coordinator for Take Back Your Time, says the nonprofit group is calling for legislation guaranteeing at least three weeks of paid annual vacation for all workers, paid leave for all new parents and workplace rules limiting the amount of compulsory overtime.

Companies will actually profit more if they don't overwork employees because they will become healthier and more productive, he says. He points to the robust economies of Western European countries, which treat their workers to more vacation time and shorter work weeks than their counterparts in the United States.

"If you live in Europe after the age of 50, you're only half as likely to develop chronic illnesses like heart disease and high blood pressure as those in the U.S.," he says. "People exercise more, they eat less food and they sleep more."

Slowing down won't only save lives; it'll save democracy, de Graaf says. His group is also pushing for laws that allow people to have election days off.

Democracy can't exist without informed citizens, he says. People need time to pay attention to the news, attend city council meetings and keep elected official accountable.

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He hopes both presidential candidates will address the issue of time famine. People can't keep living nonstop lives, he says. Something has to give.

"When you come to the edge of a cliff, the solution is not to run faster," he says. "We have to step back."

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