Author of multiple international bestselling books including: In Praise of Slow, Under Pressure, The Slow Fix, and most recently Bolder: Making The Most Of Our Longer Lives, author, TED speaker and father of two, Carl Honoré pioneered the ‘slow parenting movement’ globally more than a decade ago.
A former journalist, Honoré, a Canadian who lives in London, England, has cast a broad spotlight on the speed and frenzied pace of life, especially that of parents, children and families, through his written work and speaking engagements.
By challenging readers and society at large to question the pros and cons of leading hurried lives versus adopting a slower, more leisurely pace rooted in quality not quantity, Honoré’s slow movement has been a fresh alternative for many families struggling to meet the daily demands of modern life.
In an interview with Lianne Castelino of WhereParentsTalk.com, Honoré reflects on the current state of the slow parenting movement, the impact of the pandemic on the pace of family life and more.
Watch the video interview with Carl Honore:
Click for video transcription
BESTSELLING AUTHOR CARL HONORE: IN PRAISE OF SLOW
Hello, and welcome to Where Parents Talk TV. My name is Lianne Castelino. And our guest today is an author, a journalist and award winning writer, and a TED speaker. He’s also the architect of the slow movement. We’re delighted to welcome Carl Honore. Hi, Carl.
Hi, good to be with you.
So 2011 is when we last spoke, and the whole idea of the slow movement was still in its infancy. First of all, for our audience, can you tell us a bit about what the slow movement is about?
Let’s start by telling you what is not about. It’s not about doing everything very slowly. That would be absurd, right? I’m not an extremist, or fundamentalist of slowness. Faster is often better. We all know that slow the slow movement with a capital S is about doing things at the right speed. Knowing that sometimes you want to be fast, sometimes you want to slow things down. It’s like sometimes turbo, sometimes tortoise mode, right? It’s this frame of mind really is a state of being, it’s kind of being present in the moment doing one thing at a time. Ultimately, it’s about doing everything, not as fast as possible. But as well as possible. Pretty simple idea, but immensely powerful.
So in your mind, how has the pace of the slow movement gone for you since it’s been introduced?
Well, I mean, this is one of the joys, ironies of the last few years is that slow movement is growing really fast. I mean, when I first floated the idea, I felt like a voice in the wilderness. And it was, it felt so countercultural, and so out of step with what everything else was happening in society and culture. But now, I think that the whole, very idea of slow that there’s such a thing as good, slow, right, has very much carved out a place in the center of, of the cultural conversation. So there are, you know, in every field of human endeavor, you’ll find people bringing the lens of slow and saying, How can I do this thing better by slowing down a bit. So most people will have heard of slow food. But of course, now there’s everything from slow education to slow sex, slow leadership, slow art, slow fashion, slow travel, slow medicine, you name it, right? If you slow down and do things mindfully the right speed, you’re going to do them better and enjoy them more. And I’ve just seen it grow in leaps and bounds. And it’s been pretty, pretty amazing.
So when you talk about slow, Carl, as it relates to parenting, that was really sort of the thrust of your message, and certainly your book “In Praise of Slow’ as well as your book “Under Pressure’. How has or has the pandemic had an impact on that slow movement?
Well, it’s a complex thing, because the pandemic is, it’s like a board game. And it’s just thrown all the pieces up in here, right. So in some ways, it’s been, it’s been wonderful in other ways. I think it has been pretty hideous. Let’s look at the up sides. I think a lot of families now through the, you know, the lockdowns and just the fact that there are fewer things you can do outside the home, have found themselves just by default, spending more time together, right. And not striving and rushing from one activity to the next activity to the next resume building thing they can do. And just being less doing and more being together. And this is something you hear from parents through social media or social circles, or in the press is it it’s been a bit of a revelation to a lot of parents how, how glorious it is just to kind of hang out with your kids and get to know them more and just do things that don’t have to appear on a university application form, you know, just cooking together or doing a craft or going for a walk or so I think a lot of parents have kind of reconnected with that very simple, slow form of being a family together. And that’s something I hope, and I kind of expect that will carry forward to be here. Most parents say I don’t want to go back to that rat race hamster wheel approach to raising children that I was stuck in before. I want to want to keep some of this good slow that we’ve experienced in the last few months and take it forward.
And it’s really interesting you say that, because that really was my next question do you from where you sit? And all of the different hats that you wear and the perspectives you have?
First of all, as a father, yourself of a 21 year old and an 18 year old? Do you see that the legacy of the pandemic may well be the sustained, slow movement carrying forward?
I do. I mean, I haven’t got a crystal ball and no one knows what is gonna happen, for sure. But I think we’ve been in this kind of crisis long enough now, for it to leave a lasting mark. If it had been six weeks, I would have said to you, I’m not sure this really is an inflection point in history. You know, people can forget things and unlearn habits and six weeks very easily six months, not so much. I think we’ve had enough. We’ve marinated in this new way of being long enough now that I think some of its going to stick, especially the good stuff, and you see it in the polling and the way people are coming back to the workplace with a different spirit or, or not wanting to go back to the office preferring to work at home to have more control over their time. All that stuff that fits with the slow revolution, this slow creed, people are digging their heels in a little bit now and saying, you know what, no, we’re not going to go back to the status quo. And I live in London, England. And you can see in the way the city is arranged.
You know, we made like a lot of cities around the world, we created more space for pedestrians and cycle paths and so on, those things are here to stay. They’re not going anywhere. Right. So I think, again, it’s part of a general tectonic shift that’s happening, that will carry forward but it will only carry forward if we insist on that being the case, right? We can’t just let it happen. Because there is so much inertia, and tendency to go back to the way things were.
I think we do need to carry on telling our employers, telling our schools, talking to our communities, sitting around the table at home and kitchen as a family and saying, “what did we like about the last six months, and how can we make sure we keep some of that good stuff as we move forward? So I think it’s incumbent on all of us to make sure we, we keep on keeping on right, we keep at it.
It’s so interesting. Your first book ‘In praise of Slow’ came out in 2004. So it’s been 16 years that you have been on this movement. First of all, what was the impetus for it way back when? And have you been satisfied with its growth over time and its evolution?
Well, the spark for me to write the book in the first place actually was a parenting moment. And back in those days before I wrote, embrace slow, I was just a card carrying Road Runner. So every moment of my day was a race against the clock, I just had one speed and that speed was turbo, right? So when I started reading bedtime stories to my son, you know, I became an expert in what I call the multiple page turn technique, right? I’m trying to, I was so fast, my version of Snow White had three dwarves. And when I caught myself flirting with buying a book I heard about called the one minute bedtime story, you know, Snow White in 60 seconds. You know, I thought I need to get that book from Amazon drone delivery. And then I just caught myself and thought, no, this is just so far off what I want to be. And that was the reset moment. And I began then to reconnect with my inner tortoise. And 16 years later, you know, personal point of view, it’s been a total transformation. I don’t, I still have a, you know, exciting life. I do things that I think are important, and that bring me pleasure and joy and satisfaction, but I don’t feel rushed anymore, right, which is so, so different from before, when I felt rushed, all the time, right.
Now I, you know, if I have to go fast, you know, go as fast as needs to be done and as fast as anyone around me. But I also have those other gears of slowing down. And it changed the whole family dynamic as well. I stopped speed-reading Snow White, or start just the whole family move towards a kind of slow way of being you know.
We’ve thought hard about how many extracurriculars to have our children. Both our children grew up with a very slow way of using technology, you know. They got their smartphones, you know, but maybe a bit later than their peers but they also used them in a way where they were switching them off. And they didn’t sort of get, we never had any addiction problem. I don’t think I ever had a moment I can think of really have tried telling off my children spending too much time on screens because they just grew up in the household where we talk constantly about Snapchat, Xbox, FIFA, great, but not five hours in a row. Right. And we just got in there early, planted those seeds and I see my children now who are now you know, 21 and 18 and off to University and stuff, you know. They’ve got a really good grip on their use of time, use of technology, and they just seem to carry forward in their own lives with a lot of his slow legacy.
So yeah, I’m gonna get myself up. You know, a little pat on the back there as they move into the empty nester chapter my life.
Well, and I hope you enjoy that as you approach it. But you know, I’m wondering, it sounds like it really was a very conscious decision on your part, it was very proactive on yours and your wife’s part. Fast forwarding 16 years, so much has happened with respect in particular to technology. The frantic pace that you described way back then, does seem like a tortoise, when you look at what’s going on now in a lot of families and a lot of households. And, you know, in many respects, not a fault of these people, these parents trying to do the best for their children. So what advice can you provide?
I never want to stand on a soapbox and point the finger. I mean, I think every parent out there is doing their very best. And it’s hard, right? I mean, you’ve been bombarded with the message that you must be always busy, your child must be rushing and everyone around us you’re doing the same thing. It’s really hard to step off that conveyor belt. How do you do it? Well, I think a starting point is to have a just a moment of pause right as a family, as a parent first.
Talk to your partner, you know, have that conversation where you sit down and say, well, what do we want, right? What do we want do we cherish about this moment in our family. What do we want to look back later on and think we wanted, we wanted one or more of that, right. And think about how you then reschedule, you know, your use of time, technology, I mean, all these sort of little, there are many millions of little hacks you can do. I mean just with the technology, for instance, you can have a quiet room, one room in the house, for instance, which is permanently free of gadgets, you know. And I find in our house, that becomes a place that without anybody having to say it, turns into a sanctuary, right, a little refuge, where people drift to when they need to be off the grid, or when they need to have a conversation with someone else in the family without being distracted or interrupted. I think it’s important as well to just picking up what I was saying earlier about being infected by other people’s anxieties and speed and dizziness is to reach out into your community through your school and find other parents who are also looking to dial down the pressure, dial down the busy-ness, dial down the speed, because they are out there. And they are legion that we’re all kind of atomized and cut off and you find those parents, it becomes easier to take that first step towards slowing down right?
First start, if you’re worried about, you know, you say well, I can’t you know, de-schedule my child, because what does he or who is he or she going to play with when everyone else is scheduled constantly, right? But you could fight you know, you slow down with another family. So you find times where those children of the same age can be, to play together in a way that’s free and unhurried and unstructured and stuff. So, you know, it’s hard to sort of shoehorn it all in in one way. But there are many, many levers that we can pull about, you know, use of time use of technology in the home, in trying to incorporate another thing. I was trying to incorporate slow tasks, things like cooking together, going for a walk stuff that, you know, at the time, you know, again, it’s not going to fit feature on a Harvard application, but it’s actually going to be the stuff of, of a family life well lived, right? It’s the stuff that develops, you know, children’s emotional strength and resilience, and the bonding of the family, and ideas and the weapon, articulate use of language, and so on. And all those things will happen when you just kind of back off, and just let things happen. Instead of feeling you’ve got to rush in and move them towards a particular outcome. We’re always being told to lean in, right, as parents, sometimes you’ve got to lean in, but sometimes you’ve got to lean back, right? Just let things happen at their own pace, let children get bored sometimes, right? Because boredom, if you allow it to happen, is a trampoline towards creativity, using your imagination, all the good stuff that we want our kids to have. So, you know, it’s about getting that gear change, right? Sometimes fast, sometimes leaning in sometimes slowing down and leaning back.
So let me ask you this. We are seeing disturbing, alarming rises in mental wellness issues, mental health issues, especially among children. Do you see a correlation between the speed at which things continue to go on in the world and in particularly in families and those rising numbers?
I do. And I mean, these things are often hard to get, you know, the science, the data, and so on. But I think there’s a broad brush stroke across the world. Certainly, if you look at sort of societies, like say Denmark, which you would consider where they would generally be living in what you would consider a slower lifestyle, you know, shorter working hours, less commuting, more cycling, and walking, all that sort of stuff, you know, they have much higher levels of child satisfaction and happiness and mental health and safety. In Canada, US, Britain, and so on where we tend to be on the faster end of that scale. I think it’s pretty clear that when, and this goes for parents and adults as much as it does for kids, that if you’re stuck and fast forward, if you only ever rush, if you don’t take time to rest, recharge, reflect, sometimes just do nothing at all right, then you’re you’re heading for trouble, because not only gonna burn yourself out physically, but you’re, you’re going to pay a price, mentally and cognitively. And I don’t think there’s any disconnect or any coincidence between the fact that as you say the graph for mental illness, mental disorders and problems has just gone up through the roof at a time that society has accelerated, right?
You know, human beings are slow, computers are fast-tech is fast, human beings. We are slow, we need time off the clock, we need time, we need to sleep, just simple stuff, like sleeping enough. We seem to have lost the art of sleeping and kids, you know, often sitting in bed looking at a blue screen, you know, it’s no surprise that they’re not going to be sleeping as well. And then, you know, there’s a library of research that shows that when you don’t get enough sleep that as, you know, harms child development and all kinds of things instead of, you know, social well being and emotional well being and physical well being. So short answer, yes, there’s a clear correlation between the great acceleration and the great rise in mental health problems.
Carl, what gives you hope as you look to the future, I mean, notwithstanding the fact that we’re in the middle of a global health emergency here, but with respect to the slow movement, maybe the course correcting that the pandemic perhaps has enabled in many families and households? What gives you hope that you know what you’ve been talking about for all these years will resonate even more?
I think I mean, even before the pandemic hit, I think that was a seismic shift going on, you could see it. And I guess the short answer is, what gives me hope is the next generation because I think this new generation coming through have very different take on things, right, a different view of the world, and how things should fit together and what’s right and what’s wrong. And they’re looking at my generations’ generation that will come before and saying, I’m not sure I want that, right. I don’t think I want to be, you know, destroying the planet with my lifestyle, working so many hours. I never see my children when they’re small.
You talk to human resource departments around the world, and the new generation coming in or saying, you know, I’m willing to work really hard, I want to, I want to do well, but I also want to do good, right, I want to be sure that the company is good for the environment, it’s good for the social fabric of my community, it’s good for the world. And I think there’s a, there was before the pandemic, a big push on questions. And you know, when you talk about, you know, green policies, and so on, just a rethink was going on, and you were already starting to see changes.
You used the phrase course correction. I think that’s what the pandemic has done, in some ways, it has accelerated, or will accelerate some of those trends. Because the idea of going back, it takes a short, sharp shock, right for people finally, to say, you know, what, what we had before is not, it’s just, it’s gone right, the sell by date has passed, it’s time for something new. And I think that what we had coming before put together with a pandemic is going to, when we come out of this, we will accelerate and go deeper, I think in some of these changes, and a lot of it will be driven by the next generation who really, you know, you see if you hear it in marketing companies as well, that this generation are less interested in buying, stop owning things, they’re much more interested in experiences, right? In living things, again, totally slow approach to life, right? It’s about experience, being in the moment, doing stuff that you create. You’re forging memories that are going to last a lifetime, rather than buying something that you kind of enjoy for a little while to throw out. So I do think that a tectonic shift was coming before the pandemic. We’ll give it another boost. And as we move forward.
Before we let you go, Carl, can you give us a sense of what you’re up to these days, you’ve always got a very full schedule and all kinds of interesting things happening. What are you up to?
Well, I, although I’ve spent, you know, years, leading the slow movement, my latest book is about aging, and attitudes to aging. It’s called Bolder. So I’m kind of, I’m now doing a lot more work in, just, you know, because I guess I was taking on the cult of speed before I’m taking on the cult of youth, right? And try to, you know, create a new way of thinking about aging. So we can all normally do it better, but feel better about doing it.
I’m also putting together a slow workbook, which I’ve been meaning to do for years, it’s one of those things that you pull off the shelf in a pandemic, when there’s not so much else going on. And I’m just putting finishing touches on that and looking forward to launching that out into the world.
Well, we wish you the best. Before I let you go, though, I just have one more question that popped up for me here. Your children, what has been their feedback to you and your wife, about this conscious decision that you made as parents to slow that household down all those years ago, and I’m sure they were probably on an island with their friends in that respect. But what’s been their feedback now that they’re young adults?
I think that they feel that they got a good deal. I think it’s, you know, they often will talk about, because we’ll talk about what their peers are doing and so on. And they sort of regard people who’ve got carried on, you know, peers, contemporaries, stuck in fast forward, unable to switch off their phone, you know, trying to do way too many things, just sort of burning themselves out with a kind of pity — is probably the wrong word. But, you know, maybe there but for the grace of God, I sort of sense of, you know, that could have been me, but thankfully, it’s not so.
Yeah, I guess a big thing about the whole slow idea is regaining autonomy over your own time, the way you use time, the way you live your life. And that’s the one thing I would say about both my children is that they, you know, they know their own minds, right? I think because they’ve had the time and the space to get to know themselves, right, to know what works for them. And that’s one of the biggest benefits of creating that slow atmosphere at home is that your children have the space, the time, the freedom to work out who they are, and rather than what everyone else wants them to be right, and to forge their own path and to stand on their own two feet. And I see that with both my kids, that they’re going to be fine pandemic or no pandemic. We’re going to be able to come out the other end.
Well, and what a wonderful thing to be able to say as a parent, right? I mean, I mean, that’s just exactly what our job is at the end of the day.
Yeah, I had a thought the other day, just one final little thought. I was listening to a parenting podcast. A lot of parents were sort of talking about, you know, wanting to find a great, you know, aspiring to greatness and making the choice to, you know, be good to great and all this sort of stuff. How can we do parenting to make our children great. And I’m thinking, you know, what, that’s not the way to think about it. Really, I guess the core of my message for parents and the idea of the slow parenting movement is that not every child is cut out for greatness. They’re just not, right. Not every child is cut out for greatness, but every child can find something that is great for them. Right. And the way they will do that is by having that slowness, right to work out where to plant their two feet in the world. And that’s the greatest gift you can give to a child.
What a powerful message and food for thought. Carl Honore, thank you so much for your time.
Thanks. Great chatting!