When I was young, I became aware of things I could do for people that they could not do for themselves. Throughout all of our lives, countless people do endless things for us that we cannot do for ourselves. It may be as simple as re-roofing our houses, or as complicated as coding an online network. However, despite our lasting connections to many of these things done by other people, we’re generally unconscious of our convenient engagement with them. One of the best practices in engagement is rooted in changing that reality.
Practice 4: Engage Consciously, Not Conveniently.
Waking up to the reality that we’re all tied together in an intricate blanket of connectivity can be challenging for some people. These people may believe they pulled themselves up by their bootstraps or in some other way choose their own destiny. While its true that our thoughts make our reality, its not true that we do this alone. Instead, we are part of a lush system that relies on us giving and receiving, holding and releasing. No matter what our conditions or circumstances, throughout our lives we have reciprocal relationships. This means we’re giving and accepting throughout all our days and ways in an infinite transaction with everything, everywhere, all the time. That is engagement.
Better said, this is convenient engagement. Convenient engagement happens simply because it happens. It is the universal ballet that unfolds among all things, always. We will always take advantage of this type of engagement, and we will always contribute to this engagement. It starts when the plants that nourish our mothers’ bodies feed the womb we rest in before we’re born, and continues until the day our ashes are strewn among the soil from which new plants grow. Along the way we contribute and detract in a seamless symphony. Dr. King illustrated this in 1967, when he said,
“Did you ever stop to think that you can’t leave for your job in the morning without being dependent on most of the world? You get up in the morning and go to the bathroom and reach over for the sponge, and that’s handed to you by a Pacific islander. You reach for a bar of soap, and that’s given to you at the hands of a Frenchman. And then you go into the kitchen to drink your coffee for the morning, and that’s poured into your cup by a South American. And maybe you want tea: that’s poured into your cup by a Chinese. Or maybe you’re desirous of having cocoa for breakfast, and that’s poured into your cup by a West African. And then you reach over for your toast, and that’s given to you at the hands of an English-speaking farmer, not to mention the baker. And before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on more than half the world.”
The challenge he gave his followers was to become conscious of their interdependence. This type of convenient engagement doesn’t have to stay this way. The environmental sustainability movement has realized this. They advocate intergenerational equity, a type of conscientious awareness of the impact of one generation on the next. This same type of equity needs to inform our politics, education, and government. But it should also inform our personal lives, too. Rather than thinking of generations from one age to the next, let’s approach engagement from one moment to the next. Let’s stay aware of the infinite loop of engagement in which we all affect everything around us, all the time. Let’s stay conscious.
4 Ways to Become Consciously Engaged
- Hold a candle to personal engagement. Take time to explore what matters most to you throughout your life. Make lists, create art, build things, travel places, or simply be where you’re at and decide what matters to you most in your life, and what you’re most lastingly connected to right now. Conscious engagement comes from naming our engagements.
- Shine a light on what matters to you most. Look at your list carefully and decide what, how, who, when, and where your personal engagement happens. Then identify why it happens. Shining a light on your personal engagement will allow you to sort out what matters most to you.
- Analyze why. When you’ve figured out what matters most to you, explore why it matters most. This is called meaning-making, and happens whenever we discern why something matters to us- we acknowledge the meaning our engagements have in our lives.
- Follow the three C’s: Critique, Challenge, and Connect. Begin by critiquing what you assume about your personal engagement. Examine your assumptions carefully, and all your beliefs to simply sit there, seen by you. Then challenge the things you’d change or transform. Do they need tweeked, or town down and rebuilt? Finally, connect the things you need to. If there are leaps to make, hearts to break, or ships to pass in the night then commit to that.
Becoming consciously engaged can allow you to develop lasting connections on purpose. In turn, these personal engagements can enliven, enrich, and empower you like you’ve never imagined.