Some of the best conversations I’ve had occur in the aisles of the local grocery store. There, in those spontaneous and seemingly random encounters, I find the greatest wisdom, coming from longtime friends who speak profound wisdom and solid Truth.
We nearly ran into each other, grocery lists in hand, and quickly caught up on the successes of a mutual friend. Our similar political views led us to some hand wringing about one of the current scandals on what I’ve been calling our collective national news feed.
“But, it’s really all a distraction,” my friend says. “Keeping us from talking about and taking action on the really important stuff.”
My friend is right. I am distracted, feeling like I’m jumping from one outrageous story to another, never having the time to be fully morally outraged about an event or a trend, when another absurd or unsettling story blips on my radar screen, stirring up my indignation, and leading me down another rabbit hole in the political and cultural scene.
Some of my angst comes from not feeling I’m taking action myself, righting some injustice through my own actions, or simply not speaking out at all, because I’m distracted.
I’ve been finding some direction and camaraderie with a wise person from the nineteenth century, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Politics and culture in his time weren’t tranquil and serene, and, in his writing, he spoke out against injustice, hypocrisy, and what one of my social worker friends calls “stinking thinking”.
“At times the whole world seems to be in conspiracy to importune you with emphatic trifles. Friend, client, child, sickness, fear, want, charity, all knock at once at thy closet door and say,—’Come out unto us.’ But keep thy state; come not into their confusion. The power men possess to annoy me I give them by a weak curiosity. No man can come near me but through my act.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson.
I’ve been distracted from being purposeful, intentional, and acting against the intolerance and injustice of our times.
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived, and lived well.”
_Ralph Waldo Emerson
Am I living well, am I living to be useful and compassionate, and making a difference? Like all of us, I suspect, I want to be living in the here and now, to be productive.
My grocery store conversation stirred me up, and I’m motivated to keep at it, keep doing my life work, and making a difference.
I’ve long believed that social ills and “stinking thinking” are best addressed by a good public airing, so people can truly see a thought or an attitude for what it really is. One of my missions in life has been to seek the truth, and bring it to light.
My friends in the medical community often talk about the curative properties of sunlight and fresh air, and how infections often respond to a change in the environment, and the need for a thorough examination under a bright light, bringing in fresh air, and creating a place where healing can begin.
I’ve long enjoyed the idea of clearly identifying the elephant in the living room, so people can begin to talk about the real problem, take ownership and responsibility, and move towards finding solutions. Such clarity and directness gets us “down to brass tacks”, as my grandmother used to say.
Then, another news story, and a flurry of unreasoned opinions, rants, and personal attacks. Distractions, again.
Uncivil discourse, a sign of the times.
Blindsiding and personal attacks; not having meaningful, purposeful conversation about the issue at hand — it all reminded me of what our national political conversations have turned into, a lot of noise taking away our need to focus on productive discussions and the elephant in the living room. We are being distracted from expressing and sharing, not having well thought out and articulated debates on issues vital to our national health and direction, and respecting people’s views, even if we might disagree with them.
My grocery store encounter with my good friend reminded me that distractions are simply that. They get in the way, and keep me from my purpose in life and in my community. I need to keep focused on the task at hand, the issues we are facing, and carry on, “to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived, and lived well.”
–Neal Lemery, 6/1/2018