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Rest Is a Social Currency: Who's Banking It?

Updated: Sep 11, 2023

By Lydia Phillip


There’s deep reflective work, sense-making, and reimagining that’s enabled by a “slowing down.” It’s from this state that I wrote one of my favourite pieces “Resisting a Rest: How Urgency Culture Polices our Work.” The article had a resounding impact, landing and resonating nationally in a way I wasn’t anticipating.


The main ideas were lightbulb moments that came with the spaciousness of creating, leaning into my gift of writing, and being in flow: Urgency Culture serves and protects white supremacy; the pace of our work is intentional, designed to keep us exhausted and complicit. And when we’re just trying to survive the violence and pace of capitalism and white supremacy, there’s less space to reimagine and rebuild a just world.


Rest is resistance, because it’s advantageous for the system to keep us in perpetual motion.



What is Rest to you?

We live in a system that works us into exhaustion and then commodifies and capitalizes on our burnout. When we’re discussing Rest, I don’t mean bubble baths and face masks. Though I appreciate a DIY spa night, I’m not talking about the commercially packaged ideas of “rest” that have been sold to us with a healthy margin.


Tricia Hersey from The Nap Ministry speaks about Rest as a way to be in our bodies and minds, connected, dreaming, and doing. A temporary suspension from the hustle of capitalism, Rest is different for all of us as we find our joy and stillness in different places.


Rest isn’t Equal

It’s not lost on me that rest comes as a privilege. A social currency not afforded to all. Rest has never been distributed equally, as far back as class labour divisions, slavery on plantations, and who occupied the trenches in wars. Colonialism has held power in a white, settler state. We now see this inequitable correlation of rest and profit with mass accumulations of wealth, in contrast with racialized, disabled, gender diverse people who are overrepresented in poverty rates and low wage jobs.


It’s no accident that those most often suffering from urgency culture are also the ones historically oppressed. In the capitalist society we’re currently forced to participate in—our survival is dependent on our labour contributions and the assigned value of that labour. With the cost of living skyrocketing, rest is unobtainable for the vast majority of us.



The Practice of Rest in the Workplace

How many times have you left work, depleted of energy and in a state of numbness? And instead of being active, getting outdoors, or catching up with a friend - you cancel to spend the evening recuperating. How often are we too exhausted to participate in the activities that bring us joy, support our mental health, contribute to our communities, and care for ourselves and others?


Urgency and hustling are so ingrained in our culture and workplaces, the assumptions and unspoken expectations may as well be embedded in the drywall. We are well versed with the “I know you’re off” emails, working through lunch and after hours to meet deadlines, being unable to unplug while away, and losing sight of the big picture to wade through the daily minutiae of never ending tasks.


Prioritizing Rest in our workplaces looks like manageable workloads, healthy boundary-setting, communicating, and respecting boundaries—potentially waiving funding or public accolades to honour a team or individual’s capacity. It’s autonomy, decision-making rights, and collaborative leadership throughout the organization.


Psychologically safe(r) workspaces, accessibility, and trauma-informed practices and policies also contribute to Rest. This is especially true for members of equity-deserving groups where microaggressions, expectations of emotional labour, and polite education of co-workers (all working against a Restful state) are often the “norm.”


Rest is spaciousness in our work, time for reflection and learning, and supporting flexible work. Rest in practice means valuing people outside of their labour. Dismantling urgency culture is a conscious effort of decolonizing ourselves and our organizations. And while capitalism exists, white supremacy will flourish and Rest will never be equal.



Rest is Bigger than Our Workplaces

Our overwork has always been strategic. Capitalism has created the conditions in which we are forced to labour with “rest” doled out in small amounts as a means to increase productivity. The cycle of white supremacy has never been about humanity. Until we value people and the land over profit, the cost of capitalism is going to be our extinction. Global colonization has us working our planet into obsoletion.


When I say "Rest is resistance," it’s so much bigger than ourselves, our workplaces, and our organizational ecosystems. Rest is revolutionary. Take it when you can. And use it to dream and dismantle.


Lydia Phillip (she/her)

A published writer and researcher, Lydia has been purposeful about building a communications career where storytelling, advocacy, and education meets social impact. She has been recognized nationally for her leadership, anti-racist initiatives, and her work towards gender equality. Lydia is passionate about using her voice to inspire new ways of being together, to disrupt oppressive colonial systems, and to help create a just future. Lydia has the privilege of living on the land near water in Mi’kma’ki, the unceded territory of the Mi’kmaw People.


Visit Lydia on LinkedIn.

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