Giving Thanks for Action

When habitual distractions trump deliberate actions we focus on politics instead of policy, the selfish vs. the selfless, and the "urgent" vs. the important. We much change the action-distraction equation.
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Today you will blink almost 17,000 times, but what will you see? Your heart will beat 30,000 times today, but how much will you feel? You will take over 4,000 steps, but where are you really going?

Every day our lives are filled with hundreds of thousands of acts, so many of which go unnoticed, even to our selves. We go about our daily routines filled with responsibilities, habits and hobbies and in an instant the day is gone. And what do we have to show for it? How many moments were we fully present? How many of our acts were deliberate? How much of our day really lived?

Henry David Thoreau famously wrote upon going to live at Walden Pond, "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."

It has been suggested that this decade be labeled the "Decade of Distraction" and it is easy to see how distraction has become the enemy of the deliberate. We all have our share of distractions from the seemingly benign like sports and celebrity culture, to the bizarre like our fixation on events like the boy not in the balloon or the unveiling of a woman mauled by a chimp.

The forms by which they are delivered exacerbate the diversity of our distractions. The average American spends 40 hours a week in front of a screen. The average office worker spends 2/3rds of their time on email. And of course, social media like MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter fuels our simultaneous needs for distraction and instant validation.

Distraction has its place. It can serve as a welcome respite from the stresses of everyday life. But we must be prepared with the repercussions of what our distractions are distracting us from both as individuals and as a society.

Martha Graham once wrote, "Every action of ours is passed on to others according to its value, of good or evil, it passes from father to son, from one generation to the next, in a perpetual movement".

So what are we passing on with our actions and our distractions?

When habitual distractions trump deliberate actions we focus on politics instead of policy, the selfish vs. the selfless, and the "urgent" vs. the important.

Margaret Mead said "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." And while I would not dispute the premise that a small group can ignite change, what ultimately changes the world is when most of us change.

I once heard Mike Huckabee speak at an event at the Clinton Presidential Library. In talking about the need to change the social norms that contribute to childhood obesity, he told the audience "If we were at the same conference twenty years ago. This room would be filled with cigarette smoke, as most of us would be smokers. After we were done here, many would have a couple of drinks, get behind the wheel of a car and drive home probably inebriated. Very few of us would fasten our seat belt and as we drove away our highways would be littered with trash."

But because our social norms have changed, it would now be unacceptable to smoke in public, drive drunk, to not fasten our seat belt or litter. People in mass were able to set aside their distractions long enough to take deliberate action.

Today everything from health care to climate change are not addressed with decisive and deliberate action, because we are distracted by the sideshows at the circus. We do not confront the essentials of the issues because we take issue with the unessential.

Fortunately, there are more and more organizations helping us to act deliberately such as All for Good,, Carbon Rally, Do Something, Do Good, Volunteer Match, and hopefully even my own project, Actions Speak Loudest. Their names say it all. They serve as a much needed reminder and support system to act collectively and with deliberation.

I am hardly immune to distractions. And at times they have been consuming. Which should come as no surprise to any fellow Red Sox fan.

Recent events, however, have forced me to think and act more deliberately.

When you have a sick child, as I have now, actions become more deliberate.There is little chance for distraction.

So yesterday, when my 9-day old daughter awoke in the hospital, the tubes and wires that sustained her were arranged so I could hold her. The monitor with her vitals told me she was taking 32 breaths per minute - all with deliberation.

And later in the day, when my two year-old daughter wanted to go for a walk with Daddy, we counted our steps. Down the hill, and through the park, we counted one, two, three, four, five steps - on and on for almost an hour. Each step was taken with deliberation towards our final destination of the slides and swings. Only stumbling when distracted. Only falling when losing focus.

As Thanksgiving draws near. Let us give thanks for the deliberate actions others have taken for us. The doctors and nurses that care for our children and our friends and families that sustains us in times of need. And at the same time, after the distractions of football and turkey, may we also act deliberately for others so future generations will be thankful for us.

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