Turn off the white noise to fully experience life
By Mike Milke, author and journalist
In a world where many people have instant text messaging, ,
several phones, the , and a smorgasbord of unlimited web
information, lifes challenges today are not the ones faced by our ancestors. While theirs were
about finding a way to eke out a slightly better life than their narrow circumstances allowed, our
world requires a conscious denial of opportunities.
Think back one hundred years. With the exception of the tiniest sliver of the population,
most people faced daily scarcity. The food they ate was necessarily local (and limited the
possibility for a healthier diet); communication beyond their immediate surroundings was
restricted to letters and in-person visits. Even for those who had telephones, long-distance calling
was prohibitively expensive. As for vacations, if taken at all, they were close to home or at the
relatives. And only the rich could spare the money and time to see exotic locales that many now
assume as an annual rite and right. Such generations, to say nothing of the ones that preceded
them, knew scarcity as a fact of daily life.
In contrast, today, while poverty yet exists at home and abroad, and in some places more
severely than othersNorth Korea and sub-Saharan Africa are examplesmuch of the world
endures a new predicament rarely considered: abundance. Thats a better problem to face than
chronic shortages of food and opportunities. Still, for anyone who wants to live out what Plato
called the good life, the challenge is to face this fact: If we want a better, more rewarding
existence, we have to say no more often than yes. Fail the temptation offered by abundance,
and the waistline explodes, the mind atrophies, and the deepest potential joysdiscovered
through conversation and contemplation and by mastery of some skill, sport, art, or careerare
sacrificed to a twittered and inconsequential life.
An advantage exists for those who choose the better over the banal. Those who can shut
up and shut out the unhelpful distractions long enough to let the useful thoughts and activities
into their soul can then accomplish something valuable. While [that is] counterintuitive, the
world will never belong to those who engage in every distraction. The world will not build future
shrines to those who e-mail, Facebook, text, Twitter, and talk their lives away but never have
anything useful to say in all their virtual activities. They have never taken the time to ignore the
frenetic present long enough to learn from the past or from some still small voice. What would
be the point of trekking into the great outdoors, but with little music buds stuck in ones ears, and
then missing the roar of a river or the call of one bird to another?
The most profound books, the most sublime symphonies, and lifes rare beautiful
moments result from those who choose to say no to lifes many siren calls of opportunistic
distractions. Such men and women also have the most impact on the world around them
precisely because they found their own solid center. It is from that solidity that they can then
offer others something unique. Case in point: Had Glenn Gould been raised in the Internet age
and succumbed to every possible distraction, the world would have missed out on the full
actualization of his talents; the world would also have been poorer.
In much of human history, men and women necessarily devoted every waking moment to
scratching out a basic life of subsistence. These days, our challenge is to block out the avalanche
of cheap opportunities that can make us satiated, content, oblivious, and dull.
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