The Crisis of the Moment Grabs Our Attention – We Lose the Big Picture

The Crisis of the Moment Grabs Our Attention – We Lose the Big Picture

When I was double sheltering for most of the month of September, from the coronavirus pandemic and from the smoke of the wildfires here in California, I noticed that my attention was riveted on the air quality websites, checking every hour, was it safe to walk to the mailbox, run an errand, walk around the block?  I would track the fires in Ashland and Portland, OR, too, where close friends live.  I was tracking the devastation of the hurricanes in the southern U.S., too; compassion for the common humanity of other people coping with the devastation of natural disasters.

As the air cleared, and I began to trust the return of the blue skies and no more ash in the air, I noticed that I stopped checking the air quality websites all the time; sadly, I stopped tracking the fires in Ashland and Portland, even though the devastation was continuing. Tracking the devastation of the hurricanes in another part of the country slipped off my radar altogether.

Our attention focuses sharply when we sense imminent danger. When the danger eases, our attention eases, too, returning to what is more normal without even noticing the shift.

And yet resilience is about keeping the big picture, maintaining or recovering a realistic optimism, deep in the midst of a catastrophe, holding on to the big picture as we begin to emerge from a catastrophe. So that we continue to address the larger systems issues (like climate change) that cause the crisis of the moment (smoke too dangerous to breathe outside).

You may remember, on my August 2020 “sabbatical sort of”, I read so many books and watched so many interviews with authors and scholars excellent at maintaining the big picture, the overall comprehensive view of yes, human beings have been coping with disasters ever since human beings began walking the earth upright, and humans beings continue to rise up and rebuild from the ashes of their catastrophe du jour.

Now back in the thick of things, no longer on sabbatical, I want to continue to explore and learn – how do we human beings, feeling threatened or at least discouraged by the ongoing crisis of our current moments, continue to keep the big picture, build community, find answers, and save the day?

Even though I have only seen the trailer for the National Geographic documentary Rebuilding Paradise, I can resonate with the spirit of a community choosing to re-build their community after the entire town burned to the ground in 2018, the worst fire ever in California history, to recover “the ties that transcend bricks and mortar” and rise from real ashes.

I saw an interview last week with Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, authors of How Democracies Die, outlining all the necessary, pro-active things citizens can do right now to save our democracy, right now.

I saw an interview with Jon Meacham, author of His Truth Is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope and civil rights pioneer Dr. Clayborn Carson about what people can do right now to protect civil rights and civil liberties for all Americans.

And taking seriously the suggestions made by the Silicon Valley executive and engineers in The Social Dilemma to curb my reliance on social media (fairly nil, actually, but still…)

Focusing on the practices that build resilience, When Solid Ground Turns to Quicksand little and often, opening again and again and yet again to the big picture.

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