The Tyranny of the Urgent and the Importance of Play

Every February, students in the Templeton Honors College pack their bags and head over to Camp Men-o-Lan for a weekend winter retreat. Located in Quakertown, Pennsylvania, Camp Men-o-Lan, which is situated on 180 beautiful wooded acres, has been hosting groups since 1941. I use the word “host” with purpose: the staff expertly practice the craft of hospitality as an explicit expression of Christian virtue, and it is worth going on the retreat to observe this craft in all its excellence.

While not mandated, we students are strongly encouraged to leave our homework back at school and instead to use this time to refresh our souls through laughter and play. Communicated in this advice is an invitation to see play as important and justifiable, all the more important as we find ourselves approaching the midpoint in the semester. For many of us, the spring semester is harder than the fall semester in that the cold weather and lack of sunlight can really dampen the mood. The Templeton retreat provides an inner warmth, as when friends are gathered around a fireplace. There is ample grace to be discovered on the retreat, grace that sustains us through the duration of the semester.

In my experience, one of the greatest benefits of the retreat is the opportunities it provides to get to know others in different cohorts.  Templeton is known for being a close-knit community and the retreat gives much appreciated time and space for upperclassmen to get to know the underclassmen, whether on a hike, in the gymnasium playing dodgeball, sitting up late at night chatting over a board game, or sharing meals together. I have learned as much from my fellow students both those ahead of me and those who’ve begun the journey later than me as I have from the texts assigned in class.

On last year’s retreat, Dr. Yonan brought his son Jack along for part of the time. Watching Jack’s eyes glow with delight as we students shot hoops with him was an unexpected but welcome moment of grace for me. It is truly good that family is so centrally visible within our community, so lavishly celebrated. I mention this because family seems such an apt metaphor for thinking about the Templeton Honors College, and that means the winter retreat is the closest thing we have to a family vacation as a college.

There’s a concept in the business world called “the tyranny of the urgent:” there will always be tasks that, while unimportant in the grand scheme of things, present themselves in the moment as being urgent: I need to respond to this email, I need to get started on this paper. The urgent becomes tyrannical when we disregard the important things, nurturing friendships, sitting in silence in the presence of beauty, reflecting with gratitude on the gifts we are given. Attending the winter retreat is not urgent, and you will be tempted to opt-out or to bring homework or check emails while on the trip: these are urgent but may not be ultimately important. Attending the retreat and attending to the retreat: therein lies an important difference.


Anthony Barr (’19) is a Templeton scholar double-majoring in English Literature and History and minoring in Orthodox Thought and Culture. He is a homeschool grad with several years of experience working for two publishing companies. He is interested in the ways in which literature and spirituality inform one another. 

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