The Universal Urgency Phenomenon



There are many things which people do that seem irrational. The Universal Urgency Phenomenon explains why this is so, by identifying a common underlying reason why people do certain activities that don't make sense to an outside observer. The activities which will be explored with this theory consist of the following: (1) The act of intense rooting for a sports team or musical group, (2) gambling and investing, (3) heavy drinking, (4) smoking, (5) heavy drug-use, (6) working at a job for reasons other than money or enjoyment, and (7) starting fights with people.

Basic Thesis



  • People need to produce a "sense of urgency" in their lives by artificially creating "issues" for themselves.
  • 1st Corollary to the Basic Thesis

    People find pleasure in satisfying artificially-created issues.

    2nd Corollary to the Basic Thesis

    People find escape by having to deal with artificially-created issues instead of existing problems.

    3rd Corollary to the Basic Thesis

    People find satisfaction with simply having the "issue" for a variety of reasons.

    The definition of "sense of urgency" is the feeling of intense importance in doing something. An example in a sentence would be "Marc displayed a sense of urgency in his work on the project once he found out he would be fired if it failed." This term has been used to describe how a football team acts in the last minutes of a game as in "The 49ers need to show a sense of urgency; they are just walking calmly around with only a minute to go!" In both of these examples, there are important tasks which need to be done. These tasks are the "issues" which need to be dealt with a "sense of urgency."

    It would be good to point out here that this paper does not attempt to say that the Phenomenon is the only reason to explain certain "irrational" activities. Indeed, quotes are used on "irrational" throughout this analysis to show that what one views as irrational, another may think is worth doing for perfectly sensible reasons. Smokers may say they like the taste or enjoy blowing smoke out of their nose in a creative manner. If the person understands the risks and weighs the benefits and costs against each other, he has made a "rational" decision to take up or continue this activity. This paper chooses to focus more on the unspoken reasons for why individuals are doing these things, reasons that they themselves may not fully realize, which are the actual foundations for their desire to participate in these activities. The actions seem "irrational" to the outside observer precisely because the unspoken reasons are not self-evident.


    Why do people get fanatical about their love for a sports team? As Seinfeld once said, "You’re really just cheering for a logo." For the current state of professional sports, where players move around quite often, this is true. People root, sometimes insanely, for a team, regardless of who is on the team. After all, the team is made up of individuals. When a player whom the fans of a city once loved moves to another team, why do they then boo him? What makes people feel devotion to a team which may have a significantly different roster from one year to the next? For some teams, there may be a tradition which continues. The 49ers, for instance, still have a core of Steve Young and Jerry Rice which has been around for a while. Other teams, like Penn State Football, have a coach who has been there for decades. I think the classic example is to look at expansion franchises and the reception they are given by the fans of a city. A new baseball team coming to town would seem to be analogous to meeting a new person. It may be exciting to have this new experience, but you still want to find out if you like them. You aren’t going to tell this new person you love them, without first getting to know them. This is not the case though, with the reaction people have to new sports franchises. People instantly take to a new team, effectively saying "the love them" the same way that loyal fans of classic teams like the Green Bay Packers promote "love" for their team. Merchandise is bought, discussions surround the new team, faces are painted, and time is set aside for watching the games, possibly involving purchase of tickets. In many cases, the players on the team even hold contempt for the fans that are declaring love for them as well.

    The reason for this, as will be a common thread throughout this analysis, is that the new team instantly becomes something that people can rally around, a reason to feel passionate about something. It gives people something to do in the sense that they have to extend effort to follow the team’s progress. It creates crisis situations, worrying about whether a player will return from an injury. In a sense, the people who instantly devote themselves to this new team are creating a issue for themselves. They now have something to worry about, laugh about, cry about, get mad about. They have a cause to fight for. A substitute for this fan devotion would be gambling on a team to make the watching of the game have more urgency. Often times, people who say they are "fans" off a sport, need to create some sense of urgency in the game to be interested, whether by betting on it, declaring that it is "their" team, or fixating on some aspect like hating the coach of one team.

    Similar to rooting for a sports team, would be intense following of a musical group. While something can be said about a group playing good music or the atmosphere of it’s concerts being enjoyable, there is often other elements involved which lead some to devote much of their time and money to following a band around the country as it performs. An example illustrating this view clearly, would be "reborn" groups that have hardly any members of the original group playing, but still retain the name. People going to these concerts are doing the same thing as the sports fan who roots for the Yankees because he liked them when he was a kid, even though the entire organization has changed, including the historic ballpark where they first played. The only thing remaining is the name and the logo. But these brief reminders, like that of a classic rock band’s name, are enough for people to rally around and express devotion to. Why do people not go see bands that perform "covers" of groups they love? Surely, these cover bands can’t sound much different than the "real" group that has only the drummer left as an original member. By going to see the "real" group, there is a clear rallying point for the individual which loves the music and this rallying point is needed as an impetus for enjoying the music, much like some need alcohol or drugs to enjoy certain activities. In addition, it has been seen that people are often quick to want to be "part of something" in the sense of a new band that they want to see every concert of. They are, in a sense, taking the devotion to the band as a job that they have to perform and this "job" gives some meaning to their lives. (This will be discussed upon in more depth later. As the Phenomenon is universal; it is not surprising that many of the examples seem to cross over to each other, though there are slight nuances to each one.)

    The rooting aspect of the Urgency Phenomenon is not limited to sports and music. It can be argued that racial pride is another form creating something to root for and in turn creating issues to be dealt with like donating to groups of that ethnicity, becoming interested in the outcome of the Olympics, or just plain running around crazy with a flag. Insane devotion to things like television shows also can be put into this class. While there are actual qualities that can be said to make it "worthy" to watch, the people that devote enormous amount of time to a show such as taping every episode, going to other countries to get different language versions, etc. really are just looking for something to cheer for like the sports fan who embraces a stranger or the music fan who embraces an imposter. Once there is that entity to cheer for, the issue becomes the need to be a part of the focused-upon entity.


    Gambling and Investing

    There are two distinct actions going on with investing regarding The Phenomenon. For the purposes of this paper, investing can be looked at as both "rooting" for a stock and as a form of gambling. First, let us discuss the rooting aspect of investing. It is similar to the previous sections explanation, but now there is money involved. So really, this aspect only would apply if there is such a small amount of money involved that the following of the stock price was in and of itself the reason for the person investing. (Of course, both aspects could occur at the same time as well.) Like following a sports team, it simply gives the individual something to care about, something to do.

    Now, we will look at gambling (including investing for the same purposes of gambling). We will assume here that the expected winnings of the gambling is slightly negative, but there is potential large payouts and large losses(high standard deviation, for math-types). Why do people like to gamble? The obvious reasons are excitement and the fact that one is afforded the potential to put a little capital at risk to obtain a big payout. This idea is definitely why many gamble, but there are other reasons which lead someone to become a compulsive gambler.

    Except for pari-mutual betting games like poker, horse racing and sports, which can theoretically be made profitable with skill, all gamblers have to know deep-down that they are going to lose in the long run. Some may argue that people are just plain ignorant, but this is why this Phenomenon is being explained—to show that people do irrational thing not because they are stupid in terms of brain power but because of what they feel they need to do to exist in the world. So again, why the constant gambling? You will win sometimes, but overall you will lose and the more you play, the more you will lose over time. The explanation is made by the Second Corollary. By causing problems for themselves by constant gambling, the individual has thrust a sense of urgency upon themselves. This person now doesn’t know if he can pay the rent. He has been dodging the repo man for the past few weeks and his ex-wife’s lawyers are garnishing his welfare check. The individual creates problems for himself which then occupies his thoughts and time in devising a way out. The gambler is simply inflicting pain upon himself as a way to establish an issue or cause that he has to contend with. You can see, that this subdivision of the Phenomenon is somewhat taking the view of gambling as a sort of non-physical self-mutilation. While physical self-mutilation may stem from self-hatred, the non-physical self-mutilation of causing problems to oneself by engaging in a know damaging activity can be looked at more as a way of giving the person some new, "made-up" problem to solve which obfuscates the real problems such as the emptiness of their lives or the pain of past experiences.

    Having said that, one can also look at gambling as a form of self-penitence (like self-mutilation, maybe) in the sense that the gambler feels like they "don’t deserve to have this money." People gambling away their welfare checks or some other money that they have which is not deserved may have some of this effect going on to explain their actions, however, this topic is outside the scope of the current paper.


    As the prior sections laid out the foundation for the Phenomenon, this one can be briefer. Basically, with destructive drinking, much like compulsive gambling, the individual is knowingly inflicting pain / problems upon himself either physically or emotionally in order to give him something to fight against. By artificially creating this new problem for himself, he has no time to think about the real problems with his life. One can view destructive behavior with this intention to be a not-so-extreme version of suicide. A person who displays this behavior would be a prime candidate for suicide, but they are not in such a dire need to escape their real problems as people who actually end up committing this "final exit".

    Heavy drinking is seen often to be a problem with the very successful. Success, for one reason or another, may leave a person feeling empty. In these cases, the person feels like he needs to create some hardship for himself. Having the perfect, successful life is not enough for this individual. He must create a problem for himself by drinking, creating an issue to spice up the his life, which though successful, may have become boring because there are no challenges to overcome anymore.

    At this point, the issues need to be tied together. All the actions up to this point seek to create some sort of "rallying point" artificially. Ultimately, they seek to create this "rallying point" for different reasons, but the initial motivation of creating issues to obtain a sense of urgency remains the same.


    Smoking, though in actuality a destructive behavior, has a different motivation than drinking. Most people do not feel they are inflicting problems upon themselves by doing this activity (They are, but it is a rather slow process and better suited to other vices). The reason for creating the sense of urgency in this case can be seen in the third part of the Corollary to the Basic Thesis. Subconsciously, smokers like the fact that they have the need to smoke. It creates additional meaning in their lives by creating things they need to do and worry about. The need gives excuses to stand around outside and talk to other smokers, creating a sense of community. By smoking and having the need to smoke, an issue is created for the individual. In a sense, this issue is being created by the smoker as a way to pass the time. Someone who has nothing to do, is more likely to feel a need to create additional complexity to their lives in order to make things interesting. Of course, stress in people who are very busy may also lead to smoking, but for different reasons than the ones I am discussing here. Put simply, smoking and the need to smoke gives these individuals something to do and an excuse to do other things (like stand around outside). Being outside, at night, is very desirable to some people as a great place to think and ponder things. However, it just doesn’t seem right to stand around and not be doing something, much like people who eat in restaurants alone usually have reading matter with them. Smoking, then, can be seen as a vehicle to do other activities which would feel awkward in the absence of holding a cigarette. Please note that this is not to say that there is not also a chemical addiction which causes people to continue to smoke. The idea expressed here goes more as an explanation of why people see smoking as a desirable thing to take up, though it certainly plays a part in the continuation of the habit as well.

    Drug Use

    This activity is an interesting one because it illustrates all three Corollaries. Outside of The Phenomenon, it can be said of drug use that, like drinking, there are direct good feelings that are obtained from doing so. It is maintained here, though, that The Phenomenon is the main cause for this action. Let’s look at the first Corollary.

    "People find pleasure in satisfying artificially-created issues." Remember, we are separating the idea of satisfying a need with the actual enjoyment of an activity. With drug addiction, people like the feeling they get at having the craving and fulfilling it. In fact, as an addiction intensifies, all the pleasure from the activity comes from this aspect. A way to differentiate between to two ideas of enjoyment, think of the "actual" enjoyment of an activity as doing something good whereas the enjoyment obtained from satisfying a need is more like stopping something bad. This enjoyment of "stopping something bad" becomes so intense and routine that the individual wishes to continue causing "the bad" to keep this enjoyment continuing. Again, keep in mind that this is not saying that chemical reasons aren’t the main reason for the addiction continuing, but instead that this enjoyment in "stopping the bad" is foreseen by the individual as a benefit to taking up the activity. Now, on to the second Corollary.

    "People find escape by having to deal with artificially-created issues instead of existing problems." The idea here is the same as explained in the gambling and drinking sections. However, with drugs, you have much more variety in the form and intensity of the masking of the real problems. And for the third Corollary…

    "People find satisfaction with simply having the "issue" for a variety of reasons." Here, the allure may be with the illicit nature of the activity and the issues this creates, the feeling of camaraderie of taking part with others with the same needs. Having the need itself, independent of the good feeling that results from satisfying the need, is the essence of this idea and as expressed earlier, can be thought of as creating a situation for yourself that "makes things interesting." As a side note, this idea is prevalent in many activities not mentioned. One example can be driving a car while the tank is on empty. Are you going to make it or not to the next gas station on the highway? There is a sense of danger and this excitement is desirable to people. The question that this raises is this: Is a person who has a drug problem happier in the situation they are in than if they did not have the problem, but also led a very boring life? This third Corollary is basically saying that most people would rather have a "problem-filled, interesting" life (one with issues) than an "ok, boring" life. And while drug addiction may not seem "interesting" to you, it nonetheless gives a person something to identity with, a badge of honor of sorts, something to talk about, and something to be an expert on, all which are things people would like to have.

    Keeping a Routine

    This section talks about, what is more specifically stated in the introduction, working at a bad job for other than monetary reasons. By "bad", I mean that the person gets no direct joy from the job in the sense that the activities of the work are not interesting and no other aspect of the work would appeal to the detached observer. We will take an extreme example to illustrate the point here. Take an individual working the graveyard shift at a beer factory. His job is to make sure that the bottle-caps are all on correctly. He works alone, and gets little satisfaction from the job as the machine correctly places the caps on at a rate of 99.9%. This person wins the lottery, $20 million dollars, enough to fill his modest lifestyle. He does not quit his job, however. This has been seen numerous times in society. The Phenomenon here is used to explain why someone wants what can best be described as a boring "routine" to continue when it is no longer necessary. Again, we will use concepts from previous sections. In this situation, the person wants to continue the routine because it is a source of conflict in their life. Just like reading a book without a conflict is usually boring, people feel the need to have some conflict in their lives, to be the protagonist in the novel of their life. The person in our example likes having the obligation of being somewhere at an appointed time 5 days a week. He likes the structure it adds to his life. By keeping the job, this person has retained his "sense of urgency" by keeping an existing "issue" from ending. This would be an example of the third Corollary.

    In addition, our imaginary laborer likes the feeling he has after a hard day of bottle-inspecting, relaxing on the couch with the free beer he gets, one of the few perks. Now this is another aspect of the Phenomenon, the first Corollary. He is getting satisfaction in solving the "problem." In this case, the problem is his work, and the solution is his time off from work, relaxing and reflecting on a hard day's work. Free time is much more appreciated when you have to work full-time than when you don’t work at all. This is much like food tasting better when you are hungry, or smoking cigarettes feeling better when the craving for nicotine is at its height. Economically, looking at this example from this view, we are saying that the individual wishes to keep the "supply" of his free time down so the "value" of an hour of free time is worth more. Unlimited free time may give more "total enjoyment" but in the situation we are describing here, the lesser amount of enjoyment is packed into a shorter time period producing the desired effect of more "enjoyment per hour."

    Most people have jobs in fields which they are somewhat interested in. Most jobs allow people to interact with others in a somewhat social atmosphere. Many occupations, like teaching or law enforcement, provide benefit to society. All of these aspects are reasons enough for a person to want to continue working. When provided with a windfall like the lottery, one or more of these reasons often come into play for the people choosing to keep their jobs. However, in most cases, it is the aspect explained by the phenomenon which is the underlying reason for people continuing to work. Simply put, many would be bored if they didn’t have to work to support themselves or their family. Keeping their job continues the "sense of urgency" that exists in their lives, creating issues to be dealt with, giving them something to pass the time.



    Like the other sections, it should be made clear that there are sometimes logical reasons to why a fight occurs. This paper is attempting to explain the "illogical" reason for why people do things. Like the other sections have stated, many times there are a mixture of "logical" and "illogical" reasons to together propel someone to act a certain way. For this section, let us look at a fight started for solely the illogical way.

    A common start to a fight is someone saying, "You wanna start something?". There answer is "yes" but it is the asker who should be answering himself. He wants to "start something" for a reason that isn’t going to take much depth to go into; he has nothing better to do. Of course, the instigator will make up some excuse for being mad, like a being bumped or being looked at the wrong way. In addition, it is likely that a person who chooses to fight for these reasons probably has some other psychological reasons for acting this way. However, the underlying motivation, like some of the other activities we have explored in this paper, is simply something to pass the time, something to make the fighter’s life more interesting for a few minutes and give him a story to tell later on. So he synthetically creates this "issue" which becomes a rallying point around which he creates a "sense of urgency" which he in turn can satisfy. Street gang fighting is an excellent illustration of this idea. Really, fighting due to reasons such as these, can be combined with the irrational rooting for sports teams discussed earlier. The combinations of these two aspects of the Phenomenon goes a long way to explaining the actions of Oakland Raider fans.

    Conclusion / Comments

    Keep in mind that the actions discussed in-depth were chosen for their illustrative value in explaining the different variation of the Universal Urgency Phenomenon. They are by no means the only instances of The Phenomenon occurring. Hypochondria, and other desires to be a martyr stem from The Phenomenon. Plots of movies by the likes of Charles Bronson also illustrate the media playing up The Phenomenon to the delight of the public. The issue is created (killing of an innocent family) causing a sense of urgency (the audience and Charles want the perpetrators dead) and the satisfaction of finally seeing the scumbag killed at the end is all the more satisfying because the issue was such an fiery rallying point. The reader is left to explore other facets of society where The Phenomenon is present.

    The purpose of this analysis was to show how a specific human phenomenon causes people to take certain actions, the motives of which may be misunderstood by the outside observer. The actions discussed here vary widely and have different end-goals. However, the basic motivation for engaging in each of these activities can be attributed to the human desire for there to be issues which create a sense of urgency in one’s life. People feel they need to have this sense of urgency in order to keep from being bored.

    The author would not like this paper to be taken as a condemnation of society or a detailing of human fault. It is simply intended to bring to light some observations related to seemingly nonsensical actions that people take. Furthermore, the writer of this paper does not claim to be free of this Urgency Phenomenon, however it is his personal view that it would be desirable not to feel that an artificial sense of urgency is necessary to enjoy life. Most people, to some extent, create personal issues for the reasons discussed above. The writer feels that if relieved of the need to concoct a sense of urgency for oneself, a person can then get on with spending their time truly enjoying the "real" aspects of living.

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