UPSC MAINS 2015 ESSAY # 2: Quick but Steady Wins the Race.

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Fast, fast, far too fast.

Life cannot be at such a pace, to last.

…….. …….. ………

Criticized for going too fast

and too slow,

a no win situation,

but for I, the pace of life,

shall choose,

that I do know.

For I see this as fundamental, save.

To live a life in the fast lane

and burn oneself out,

physically and mentally,

will surely lead to an early grave.

                         –Victor Gatenby

Quick but steady wins the race is a modern adage that is just the opposite of the old adage which says slow and steady wins the race. The modern age adage is relevant in the context of intense competition that we face and immense possibilities that technology has made possible in our times. We are living in an age of cut throat competition. In this age all pursuits become a race which needs both speed and continuity to win.

Speed ensures that we move faster than others while remaining steady ensures continuity in our endeavors. But this new idea cannot be taken on its face value as a superior strategy to win. Speed has its advantages and disadvantages both while in the name of continuity, steadiness should not mean procrastination and delay marked by inefficiency and lack of dynamism and vigour. Also steadiness should not mean foolhardiness to stick to and continue with a project indefinitely even if it is not delivering the desired results. This new age idea is opposed to the age old belief that slow and steady wins the race. The old adage essentially means that rather than speed, it is continuity of effort that matters more in winning. The idea is not without merit. Remaining slow should not be interpreted superficially. In fact every project which we choose to work on has a certain gestation period and we cannot achieve them without the relevant amount of patience and rigour. With breakneck speed, steadiness may not come as we are tired soon whereas when our speed is reasonable we can run a longer race. Wisdom leads us to the conclusion that both the new adage and old adage should be seen in context. Both the strategies have their own merits and demerits and when we are to choose between the two, we must be aware as to which of the two strategies works better in a given condition rather than blindly following them.

The modern age is very competitive and technology has added more to that. People have devised new technologies and strategies that make it possible to accomplish the tasks at hand faster. We can see how mill production replaced handmade production in the market place, how people using cars, trains, airplane can travel faster, modern gadgets can cook faster, using mechanical support can do farming operations faster etc. The advent of Information Technology and convergence has led to immense speed in delivery and sharing of information. Computers can do computation faster. Automation and instrumentation has helped to accomplish tasks of a month in a week. There are fast modes of transport like bullet trains based on the Japanese technology. The countries which are technologically advanced produce more, consume more, and enjoy more. Even the various examinations for recruitment of human resources test both speed and accuracy. A reasonable speed is indispensable to accomplish the tasks faster and remain ahead than other competitors. But speed has several disadvantages.

With great speed, the chances of errors and mistakes increase. Speed also leads to compromise on the quality of work. In speed we are not able to see the problems arising in the process of our work, and even far less chance we get an opportunity to mend ways for improvement. We need time out to think and ponder, to be creative and innovative and to be corrective and improving. When we are at great speed in our lives our sense of beauty and aesthetics is blurred.

Slow and steady wins the race has been anecdotal theme and most well known of them is the story of hare and tortoise who decided to compete in a race. Although the hare was ahead initially, he became complacent later and fell into a brief slumber while tortoise which was lagging behind continued steadily and eventually won the race. The maxim means that even those who are slow in actions can succeed with constant efforts in their venture. People who appreciate the seriousness of a work usually chose to keep their speed at a reasonable level so that they can give ample time to the task at hand. Without properly working on the prerequisites of a task speed would not lead us anywhere. The old adage cautions that people who start their work with vigor but do not remain steady in their commitment to accomplish the task till end and become overconfident and complacent are condemned to fail in their endeavours.

Being slow is not a quality in itself. It is very important to assess the situation and its requirement before deciding about the required speed. The speed of action must be justified by the purpose and goal that we are pursuing. Sometimes we have only option- being quick and going fast! If there is a fire in a building or if there is a violent tornado or cyclone building up near the place where we live; we have no other option then to act fast. But this is not true about all the situations. A painter cannot hasten to make a master piece. A poet cannot hasten to produce 100 poems of high quality in a month.

Being slow in the first instance is the proof of our laziness, inefficiency, inaction, lack of dynamism and deftness in our skills. While laziness etc., inaction and lack of dynamism make us slow and need to be overcome, at the same time we must also realize that learning a skill, inculcating efficiency and deftness in a work are slow processes which need to be followed and practiced slowly. Thus, Carl Honore rightly points out that the slow philosophy is not about doing everything in tortoise mode. It’s less about the speed and more about investing the right amount of time and attention in the problem so you solve it.

Slowness is neither a disgrace nor a bad trait if it is adopted as a strategy to deal with a particular situation. We see a signboard of caution at dangerous traffic spots or narrow paths- “go slow”. Being slow gives us a time to think and ponder, to be creative and innovative and also to be error free. Going slow also makes it possible to see the aesthetics of our actions and feel it. In speed our senses do not support us; in a slow speed our senses remain poised. Milan Kundera goes to the extent to say, “The degree of slowness is directionally proportional to the intensity of memory. The degree of speed is directionally proportional to the intensity of forgetting.”

In both the adages, however, steadiness remains to be a common positive attribute for winning. Whether we are quick or slow, steadiness or continuity of efforts is extremely important for winning. Taking any dream or project to fruition requires untiring and continued efforts. Paolo Coelho says the beauty of life is that we fall seven times and get up eight times. With great speed we are tired soon, whereas with reasonable speed we continue with our struggle till we reach our goal. Life is very occasionally a magic, it is often more akin to music. Magic may be quick and fast but music becomes quick and slow depending upon the requirement of a situation. We won’t disagree with Robert W. Service when he asserts, “It’s the steady, quiet, plodding ones who win in the lifelong race.”

However, winning the race is a multifaceted concept in the sense that it means different things to different people. In an acquisitive society we want to have it all fast and quick- wealth, power, recognition or even fun. But for another set of persons winning race may mean living for making a change in the existing order of the things for larger good, justice, innovation, creativity, art, and aesthetics. Some people give lives in the service of humanity or for the cause of freedom and liberty. These processes by their very nature are slow.

The first set of people may opt for speed while the second set may rely on steadiness. In fact in some cases it is possible to be quick as well as steady, but in other cases being quick may not always be compatible with being steady. Reasonable speed is certainly a prerequisite of success, but excessive speed is dangerous. There is always a danger of collision or a fall if our breaks fail.

Slowness as a personality trait doesn’t help. It breeds laziness, inefficiency, inaction, lack of dynamism as highlighted above. But slowness as a choice has its own beauty. Success is steady progress toward one’s personal goals. It is a mistake to think that moving fast is the same as actually going somewhere. It is very important to ascertain where are we going. Being quick is a proof of efficiency, but speeding towards our goal breeds immense restlessness which makes us uncaring, ruthless and often brazenly mechanical. The limits of speed has to be decided, otherwise it becomes frustrating.

Being quick as a mark of efficiency, deftness and skill is good. But being quick by using steroids or unfair means is not earning your victory but stealing it, which when detected brings more disgrace and shame than a sense of fulfillment. One American commentator Will Ferrell quips, “America is all about speed. Hot, nasty, badass speed.” Mahatama Gandhi has rightly said, “There is more to life than simply increasing its speed.” When our speed is reasonable we are in our senses and our capacity to realize and feel aesthetics and beauty in our struggle for our dreams; that is is very fulfilling. The process becomes enjoyable. It does not hurt anybody, yet we move forward. Every flower blooms at a different pace. We must choose our speed depending on our requirement and skill, and gradually hone it up to the desired level. Impatience will not help. Patience and perseverance will. The most successful men in the end are those whose success is the result of steady accretion.