These days, it’s not much of an exaggeration to say that there’s a constant war being waged for your attention. Your cell phone wants it, as do the snaps and apps within it. Your friends want it, via text and FaceTime and occasionally even face-to-face interaction. Your teachers want it, and so does your mother. Even your father gets into the fray, especially when he has a new blog post to share.
It’s also not much of an exaggeration to say that your future hinges on how you spend this precious commodity—on what does, and does not, get your attention. So here are some thoughts on things worth attending to.
Pay attention to things that help you see farther and understand more deeply. To works of fiction that somehow render larger truths that touch your soul. To stories that cast the world in strange new lights. To poems that find words for the unspeakable.
But also to works of nonfiction. To scientific theories that explain your relationship to stardust as well as to chimpanzees. To histories that illuminate the present as well as the past. To political philosophies and economic arguments that attempt to explain the marvelous tangled webs we humans weave.
Recognize that the tools your culture provides—the languages you speak, the stories you learn, the theories you may yet come to wield—equip you for making meaning. They don’t contain all the answers (and never will or should), but they give you what you need to find your way beyond yourself, outside what you already know, around what is otherwise hidden.
Pay attention to beautiful things. To sunsets and seascapes and starry nights, to Beethoven’s symphonies and Botticelli’s paintings, but also to the color of that particular person’s eyes or the way she tilts her head back when she laughs.
Look for beauty in the details other people don’t notice. In dew drops trapped on spiders’ webs. In the rippled rolls of cirrus clouds. In the distant call of church bells or the laughter of children playing tag.
Perhaps most importantly, look for beauty where you least expect to find it. In the hands that pick you up when your whole world comes crashing down. In the voice that whispers “hush” when your big dreams dissolve in tears. In the silence of a friend who sits beside you through the pain.
Understand that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” sometimes means that only people who are wise enough and patient enough and attentive enough will see it. And understand that the beauty such people see is all the more exquisite for being nearly invisible.
Pay attention to the good people around you. Not to the most popular people, or the most powerful people, or the people who have the most money or prestige. To the people who bring out the best in you and find themselves stronger for it.
To the people who lift you up and push you forward when you need it. To the people who cry when you cry and laugh when you laugh, except when they need you to do that for them. To the people who make you happier for no real discernible reason. To the people who make you better.
To coaches not critics, teachers not tyrants, wise old wizards not people lashing out. To people who want what’s best for you—and who might have a clue what they’re talking about. Yes, even if they happen to be your parents, and you’d really prefer to attend to something else.
Pay attention to what nourishes your mind and spirit and soul. That’s the path to a fuller, more beautiful existence—and the people you’ll want to share it with.
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