Herald Journal Columns
May 30, 2005, Herald Journal

Slow and steady wins the race

By LIZ HELLMANN

There is a reason the tortoise won the race. But you wouldn’t know it by looking at our society sometimes.

Did everyone read a different version than me? Or was this simple classic lost in the chaos of Cinderella grabbing for her crown with one shoe on while Snow White was fainting into riches, and the amazing pro-vitamin strength of Rapunzel’s hair was the envy of all?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not mocking these classics. I like them all. But when did everyone start acting like a bunch of hares?

The bottom line is, in our country, the motto has become “the faster, the better.” It’s not enough to just lose weight, it has to be losing 30 pounds in a week.

We all want to live “comfortably.” Which includes the latest technology, luxury car, and the million-dollar “starter” home.

Let’s face it; in our society, it seems that if you’re not chowing down carb-friendly popcorn in front of a flat screen, you’re below the poverty line.

That’s not to say any of these things are bad. I would love to be driving a BMW with a flat-screen TV mounted on the wall of my castle. Who wouldn’t? My point is we’ve come to expect to have these things now.

Which brings me to our childhood fable. The tortoise and the hare is a wonderful little story about the slow and steady winning the race. We get quite a different message by looking around us.

Reality TV has taken America by storm. But what could possibly motivate us to voluntarily be marooned on a desert island, swim with sharks, dangle by a string from a helicopter, eat cow’s eyeballs, and be publicly humiliated by demanding and often egotistical judges?

Prizes. Immediate prizes.

The winner of these competitions will not only be able to revel in their 15 minutes of fame, but will usually also receive a nice sum of money or an opportunity to launch a lucrative career.

I’m not poking fun at the people that choose to go on these shows, or saying they don’t work hard. I know I wouldn’t be willing to do all of the things they do. But why are they so driven to compete with such intensity and risk humiliation?

The fact is only a tiny percentage of the people who enlist themselves will win. As for the losers, their experience will boil down to basically two words we all are familiar with, and hope to never hear. You’re fired!

Sometimes, I wonder at exactly what we deem worthy of putting our energy into.

Take diet crazes. If we’re told we can lose 30 pounds in a month, many of us would ask, “Where do I sign?” The solution we’ve just forfeited our souls for? Eating nothing but grapefruit and celery for two weeks. Instant results!

What about the old tried-and- true motto of everything in moderation, diet and exercise? Go ahead and have a piece of that double layer chocolate fudge cake; just don’t eat the whole thing and spend the rest of the night in a lazy chair (there’s a reason it’s called that, by the way).

See, that doesn’t impress us. It’s the slow and steady concept again. Boring!

We don’t care that it’s been proven practically foolproof (in most circumstances) if followed correctly. It requires us to be committed to steadily sticking to the plan, and slowly losing the weight.

We don’t want that. We want a week’s worth of effort in exchange for lifelong results. But that just goes against the laws of physics.

This concept works with more than just diet, though. Credit cards are another amazing opportunity for the hares in all of us.

Having spent the last four years of my life in college, I have seen many of my friends receive credit cards.

The cycle is eerily the same most of the time. Those little pieces of plastic can pay for eating out, new clothes, books, presents, new stereo equipment, and so much more.

It’s like a good boyfriend, always picking up the check and buying us exactly what we want. Only the card doesn’t whine when we want to go shopping.

Bills? What bills?

Oh, those bills. Those neat little white envelopes that seemed to arrive with more and more frequency, as many of my esteemed peers were preparing to graduate.

It’s kind of like the part in the story when the hare wakes up and sees the tortoise about to cross the finish line. They open the bill, their eyes bug out, and they try to run away as fast as they can.

These are not careless or vain people. They are intelligent people taken advantage of by the philosophy we all wish were true. Getting something for nothing. They are our friends, they are our family. They are all of us.

Now, obviously, credit cards are handy to have, and not everyone abuses them and ends up in debt. But, unfortunately, they are an exciting way to get something immediately, whether we actually have the money or not.

Plugging at our jobs hour after hour to make a living and then going home to watch TV on our, gasp, five-year-old analog set, can seem a bit boring. But we might be surprised at the benefits.

After all, we never do see the years Rapunzel spent battling with split ends while trying to grow out her hair, or just how long Cinderella had to clean the fireplace, before they got to their happily ever after.