He probably doesn’t know it, but New York Times columnist David Brooks recently wrote a great OP-ED piece on calling. He was writing about something so many of us are feeling these days: our lack of focus. We are losing what he calls the “attention war.”
Brooks confesses: “I text when I should be paying attention to the people in front of me. I spend hours looking at mildly diverting stuff on YouTube. (“Look, there’s a bunch of guys who can play ‘Billie Jean’ on beer bottles!”).”
And I confess that I relate to his confession. I haven’t seen the ‘Billie Jean’ video, but I have watched my share of funny cat episodes. Not to mention whatever it is my friends on Facebook want me to read or watch. Not to mention what ESPN tells me what is important news of the day. Make room in the confession booth David, there are a lot of us who are feeling more than a little distracted these days.
But more than his confession, I relate to his conclusion: the answer to our distraction is not sermonizing and prohibitions on screen activity. “Just say no” has never been a great change strategy. Brooks concludes: “The lesson from childhood, then, is that if you want to win the war for attention, don’t try to say “no” to the trivial distractions you find on the information smorgasbord; try to say “yes” to the subject that arouses a terrifying longing, and let the terrifying longing crowd out everything else.”
I remember a time when I was asked to be on a volunteer committee. I asked for a week to think about it. In that week, I noticed that ideas continually emerged for what we might do on this committee. I couldn’t not think about it. The ‘terrifying longing’ was crowding out everything else, and I said yes.
I imagine the superficial chatter in our world is only going to increase. I predict more funny cat videos, not less. (And lest you think I am a total scrooge, I hope to continue to enjoy internet fluff now and then.) But it is worth taking time on a regular basis to get below the chatter, listening for what is a little deeper in us. You want to be more focused? Pay attention to what gets your emotions going and what you can’t help thinking about. Pay attention to your call.