#71: To love is to pay attention
How to not get your attention hijacked and love more deeply
After listening to the feedback from you, my wonderful readers, I recognize a need for me to ground the ideas that I write about with tangible real-world applications. I hear you — ideas are fun to ponder during leisure time, but in times of crisis, like today, ain’t nobody got time for leisure. Although leisure is critical for quality of life, I understand that not everyone can, in the here and now, access that mindset. Because to value leisure, a person must be in a clear, equanimous headspace, and to be in a clear, equanimous headspace, a person must practice leisure.
I promise to noodle on your feedback —in the places where I do my best thinking: the shower, on walks, and while practicing yoga —because I recognize that it’s very important to ground big ideas in the real world. As Tom Morgan writes in his article, The Attention Span, the Greatest Thing By Far:
I’ve spent a long time thinking about why coming up with good metaphors is so difficult. Essentially, it’s because if they don’t resonate, they don’t work. And they only resonate if they relate to real world experience.
Tom’s insight makes me think about the problems with the information we consume online. Just like dieting and weight-loss programs, most content on the Internet offers quick fixes that give us short-term, myopic results but fail in the long term to create meaning and happiness.
Most content on the Internet is either timely or timeless, but rarely is it both. Timely content is the information that keeps us informed on current event—like the news. And timeless content is the information that keeps us intelligent—like the encyclopedia. Long-term thinking requires that we have information that is both timely and timeless—like Maria Popova’s blog, The Marginalian.
In 2012, Maria wrote:
If something interests me and is both timeless and timely, I write about it. Much of what is published online is content designed to be dead within hours, so I find most of my material offline. I gravitate more and more towards historical things that are somewhat obscure and yet timely in their sensibility and message.
Maria Popova is one of the earliest synthesizers of information. Meaning, she is a person who curates information to make it timely and timeless. She does this by spotting patterns across diverse disciplines like science, history, and literature, to create meaning and real-world application.
Synthesizing information is a craft —a skill of great importance since the beginning of humanity. Here’s what Aristotle said about people who synthesize information (or as he called them: “a combiner of ideas”:
The greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor [a combiner of ideas]. It is the one thing that cannot be learnt from others; it is also a sign of genius, since a good metaphor implies an intuitive perception of the similarity in dissimilars”.
I'm a finance writer, but I never read finance books. I read history/biology/biography, and in that process, I'm constantly looking for things outside of finance that remind me of finance. I think it's hard to come up with stories if you're only reading/thinking about your own field. It's when you connect the dots from other fields that it gets exciting.
We start to experience dangerous societal issues when we lack synthesizers who create timely and timeless information. The Wokeness Movement is a great example of how politics can create artificial divides that infuriate people into action.
Urban Dictionary does a great job pointing out how this works.
The Political Right blames the Political Left for Wokeness:
And the Political Left blames the Political Right for Wokeness:
Anger, fury, and hate are the most primal human emotions so it’s easy for politicians to weaponize these feelings to create a mob mentality to mobilize the masses. Mobs are short-term, myopic thinkers who want results and change NOW. They are not long-term thinkers.
Wokeness is an attractive target for dissidents and polemicists who speak in terms of generalized decadence or a “suicide of the West,” mainly because it is self-consciously insurrectionary, at least in matters of culture. It openly positions itself as a bellicose outsider—rather than as a cultural inheritor—with respect to the precepts of the old society. The woke typically regard this older society with open contempt, as an ancien régime that needs to be destroyed. Once a society is home to a critical mass of people with this sort of attitude toward their own civilization, social cohesion isn’t so much in danger as it has already been lost.
Taking the problem of the mob further, Hannah Arendt—a political philosopher, author, and Holocaust survivor—writes that the masses are lonely, and loneliness can make people susceptible to totalitarianism.
What prepares men for totalitarian domination in the non-totalitarian world is the fact that loneliness, once a borderline experience usually suffered in certain marginal social conditions like old age, has become an everyday experience …
– From The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951) by Hannah Arendt
This makes me worried because the Covid-19 pandemic has deepened the epidemic of loneliness. A report from Harvard shows that:
36% of all Americans—including 61% of young adults and 51% of mothers with young children—feel “serious loneliness.” Not surprisingly, loneliness appears to have increased substantially since the outbreak of the global pandemic.
I can’t help but think about how our current society, one consumed with trendy and timely information, is in deep need of timely and timeless information. So that we can save ourselves from our worst enemy—ourselves.
As Hannah Arendt writes in how to love and live with fear:
Fearlessness is what love seeks. Such fearlessness exists only in the complete calm that can no longer be shaken by events expected of the future… Hence the only valid tense is the present, the Now.
Being present—in the Now— requires us to pay attention. It is only in this state of attention — free from trends, fads, hacks, and shortcuts that hijack our attention, can we truly love.
Tolstoy called “love a present only activity” and the late Buddhist poet, author, and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh shares the following wisdom about love:
When you love someone, the best thing you can offer that person is your presence. How can you love if you are not there? Come back to yourself, look into [their] eyes, and say, “Darling, you know something? I’m here for you.” You’re offering [them] your presence. You’re not preoccupied with the past or the future; you are there for your beloved. You must say this with your body and with your mind at the same time, and then you will see the transformation.
Take care of yourselves, my friends. Be kind and practice love. Love is truly a practice that starts with loving yourself. It’s vital to first put on our own oxygen mask before helping others. ❤️