KAI RYSSDAL: I got an e-mail from my boss the other day. Not an unusual thing. Except that he's in the middle of a two-week vacation. On the East Coast. With his family. Sending work e-mails at 7:30 in the morning. Granted, he's kind of a Type-A personality. But still, everybody needs some down time, don't you think? Commentator Robert Reich couldn't agree more.
ROBERT REICH: I'm sitting on the beach the other day, trying to relax into an abbreviated summer vacation, when someone I barely know comes up to me with a scowl on his face. "The stock market's going to hell," he says, and walks off. I wonder if I should I call my broker. How can I reach him? He's on vacation.
To distract myself, I pick up the paper I'd got on the way to the beach and skim the headlines. Hezbollah and Hamas attacking Israel. Israel bombing Lebanon. Iraq tumbling into civil war, more dead and wounded. Another outbreak of bird flu; more deaths in Indonesia. Iran and North Korea closer to having nuclear weapons. Famine in sub-Sahara Africa. Genocide in Darfur.
I'm feeling awful. My cell phone rings. It's my good friend John, a welcome distraction. "How'dja like to go to a movie tonight?" he asks. "Great," I say, eager for any escape. "Fine, he says, "I just got us tickets to Al Gore's film on global warming."
As a general rule, I don't believe in escapism. I think citizens ought to get involved, be engaged in the world. Don't put your head in the sand. But in order to be engaged most of the time you have to disengage a bit of the time, or you'll go nuts.
Before instant communication, before we knew everything going on everywhere, all the time, vacations were about taking a break. Even during the Great Depression and World War II my grandparents, once a year, would trundle off to some remote spot and get away from it all for a week or two. At least they looked happy in the photos.
So, how is it possible today to have a real vacation, to get away from it all when it all comes to us, and when so much of it is so awful? For the last day I've followed three simple rules and frankly I feel much better. First, don't read anything. Second, don't watch anything. Third, don't talk with anyone.
If you're on vacation right now, you obviously have a way to go. I mean, you're listening to the radio.
RYSSDAL: When he's at work, Robert Reich is a professor of public policy at the University of California-Berkeley. He was Secretary of Labor during the first Clinton administration.