Friday, December 29, 2006

A resolution: Pay attention, and be outraged

VICTORIA - My partner’s stocking stuffers this year included a bumper sticker, the first one for her truck.
“If you’re not outraged, then you’re not paying attention,” it said.
For the last five New Year’s, I’ve written about the same resolution I’ve made each year, and taken the chance to urge it on others.
I wanted us all to pay attention.
The idea started as I sat with my first grandson asleep on my lap at the Island Music Fest. I looked around and realized there was not much point in worrying about his future. Thirty years from now, he could be anything - on the festival stage, or watching with his own child on his lap, working 5,000 miles away or slouched in the beer garden.
Who could know what’s ahead? Who would want to know?
Instead, I thought on that sunny day, my arm slowly falling asleep under the weight of Paxton’s head, we should be paying attention to this minute and making it matter.
It’s not easy, at least for me. Worrying about the future - about whether I’ll get the next column done on time, how my own children’s lives will go, if I’ll have enough money - comes naturally. And it’s reinforced by a lifetime of being told how important it is to think ahead.
But the risk is that we stop paying attention to right now as we fret about a future we may never see. Every year brings a few more deaths to remind me that you can really only count on this moment.
Paying attention starts with the world and people right around you. Right now, is that person - friend, or child, or partner - across the room happy, or sad? What do you see in their eyes when they laugh? How does the air feel on your skin when you step out into the day? How are you?
But it’s not just about your life, or personal growth. I figure making a better world, for the people we know and the people we don’t, starts with paying better attention to this one.
That’s a vote of confidence in your decency. I believe that if we really paid attention to the homeless people we saw, or the kids in care booted out in to the world with no real support when they turn 19, or seniors waiting struggling without adequate care, we would make things better.
But if we don’t notice them, nothing happens.
Writing columns is interesting, pleasant work. But the job only has a point because I believe that readers, once aware of problems, will see that they are fixed. They’ll act on their own or pressure government, but they’ll get something done.
It’s my job, I think, to try and pay attention on your behalf. And, at least in print, as a result I probably seem perpetually outraged. Why not write more about the good things we do, politicians from a couple of governments have asked?
Mostly, because that’s a waste of the great opportunity each column offers. There are too many things that should demand your attention, things you would care about that need fixing. Certainly, governments do many fine things and they will undoubtedly tell you about them. My role is to tell you about the things that I think would make you unhappy.
Not to be gloomy, but because I believe you’ll deal with them. It’s like the bumper sticker says: “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”
But paying attention isn’t really all about problems.
It’s often a reminder of just how wonderful our lives are: Moments of shared kindness, the wonder of mist rising from water, the pure joy of being in love or seeing a little kid smile at the world.
I urge it on you, one again, as a resolution. This year, really pay attention - to the people around you, the world at your door, the joys and sadness and beauty and pain that are all sure to be part of the next year.
We’ll be better off.