Overcoming Division Starts Within Ourselves

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Abraham Lincoln

Shelter is an essential human need. It exists physically but also within ourselves and our spirits. If we build our homes with dirt, sand, or other malleable materials, when a flood of water unexpectedly comes, these structures will get washed away. How we construct meaning, purpose, and our vision for our lives is no different. If our foundation is fragile and we are unprepared for changing times, we can become vulnerable to outside forces.

As we all know, the external forces that attempt to gain our attention and influence us, often do not have our best interests in mind.

Given what we have all endured in 2020, and early 2021, we hopefully have come to realize how precious life is and how the things we take for granted that are essential to human dignity can be taken away at any time, without notice. Like when a poorly constructed foundation meets a flood, there is great danger in times of turmoil if our minds become polluted by others, especially if done by those who do not want what is best for us. The things that we decide matter, such as who we are, what we love, and what we care about must be protected.

We must remain in control of our thoughts, our hearts, and our minds.

Can You Pass the Test?

In order to address the constant human need for a sense of purpose, meaning, and spirituality, we must have a sense of who we are, who we want to be, and how to get there. The foundation of our lives must be built on something sturdier than sand, or dirt. As Jimi Hendrix famously said, “castles made of sand fall in the sea, eventually.”  

What is your life made of? What do you want it to be made of? How do you get there? If recent harsh times have taught us anything, it is that we have endless distractions chipping away at our attention, and these things can affect our emotional health. In the process, our will is tested because in order to command our attention, those who compete for it must stimulate our most primal emotions.

I know my will has been tested, has yours? One thing keeping me sane is my routines (more on that below).

Managing Types of Distractions

A study shows that when comparing the below 3 generations, Millennials spend the most time on their phones and Baby Boomers spend the least1. Since Millennials are the youngest, this suggests that the younger someone is, the more of an impact social media and instant messaging have on an average day. If access to information was historically a tool of career and economic advancement, maybe our ability to manage distractions going forward will be a new differentiator of success.

Generation:Daily Phone Screen Time (% of day)
Generation X16.5%
Baby Boomers9.9%

A few generations ago, the opposite problem existed. In those days, access to information was actually a luxury. Since information was scarce then, those who had the information enjoyed the luxury of possessing more knowledge. Now nearly everyone in the modern world has rapid access to information.

Along with the luxury of endless access to information at nearly all of our fingertips, comes constant temptation and distraction. External forces compete for our attention and interest for a variety of reasons. Most often, financial gain is a motivator so this phenomenon will likely only become more pronounced over time.

Infinite Pools of Distraction

If you have yet to see one, infinity pools are luxurious and beautiful to look at. Since they are not cheap to install, they are common in wealthy homes. The modern conveniences that we all enjoy such as instant messaging, social media, mobile apps, 24 hour news cycles, and push notifications enrich our lives in the same way an infinity pool enriches the beauty of a wealthy actor’s home who lives in Beverly Hills, for example.

These conveniences save time and give us the luxury of exerting little to no effort in accessing information at any time. This easy access to information does enrich our lives, but within its dark side, are some serious challenges.

Image by Sevinos Erotokritou from Pixabay

A special type of distraction has been named after these luxurious swimming pools2. A distraction meets this criteria when it is constantly available, easily accessible, and infinite in the amount of time one can spend engaging. Our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter news feeds are prominent examples.

This concept of competing for viewers and readers’ attention is nothing new. Books were an early iteration of this phenomenon. Later came the 24-hour cable news cycles, for example. The modern evolution of this has come in the form of social media, in which we can lose track of time scrolling through our “news feed” to see what our connections are posting about. At each stage throughout history, the ability for anyone to reach and influence people has become easier.

As we hop into our virtual infinity pools, we scroll and are stimulated by many emotions and thoughts. It becomes severely addicting because it taps into our need for associating meaning with current events, celebrities, and friends. More importantly, it also addresses emptiness, isolation, or disconnectedness we may feel from friends and loved ones, but sadly, only on a temporary basis.

The way infinity pools fuel short-term emotions lead to an “easy come, easy go” approach to the acquisition and interpretation of information. We can feel endless short-term gratification and stimulation any time we want. All we have to do is tap an icon on our phones. What a luxury.

The Dark Side of this Luxury

With such pervasive use of these tools of convenience: Friends, enemies, companies, organizations, activists, and anyone else you can think of compete directly against you for the direction of your attention. As a consequence, the shelter we all attempt to build in order to stand for what we believe in and stand for our values can waiver if we avoid routine maintenance. Since the social media companies thrive only off of our engagement, their mission is to get you in the habit of constantly caving to temptation.

Since their algorithms are designed to show us content we have engaged with previously, the more we scroll on social media, the more we expose ourselves to the same ideas and the same perspectives. It is easy to see that this holds consequences for society at-large. We end up gravitating to the familiar and unwittingly close ourselves off to alternate ways of thinking.

If divisions do exist between ourselves and the person who posted the content, when we engage, we will come across similar posts again. If we passionately disagree or are offended by the post, the more we react and the more time we spend reading it, the more likely it is to show up again in our feed. This further exacerbates the problem of division by promoting unhealthy debates that strain relationships and sow division among communities to the point where assumptions and stereotypes of groups become ingrained in the cultural fabric of our society.

My army of temptation.

Who is in Control of You?

Increasingly, it is the social media algorithms, not our own conscious choices that take us where they want to take us. What seems easy and convenient becomes addictive and even destructive over time. Society is struggling with how to adjust and live with the consequences of this new behavior. It is unquestionably exacerbating divisions between groups of all types, and it has never been highlighted more than in the events of the 2020 Presidential election. Remember when we thought 2016 was bad?

If we know social media can divide us from friends, family, and members of our community, it can also disconnect us from ourselves. We cannot control what happens to society but we can control what happens between our two ears and in our souls. This is where we must direct our focus.

What can we do?

Time management may feel overwhelming and somewhat out of our control depending on our life circumstances, but it is essential that we manage it in order to prevent others from managing us. How we do this is up to each of us but it must be done. After all, we keep our children away from content that we feel can influence them in a negative manner. It is peculiar that we are much less guarded when it comes to ourselves.

There are many insights and tips available. One technique I have implemented and found useful is to do daily writing. I keep a pen and notebook for when I want to write by hand and an electronic Word Processor on my computer for my daily writing.

I hold myself accountable to spend a certain amount of time on my daily writing. The time I spend is tracked through a system that has evolved to meet my needs as I define them over time. Without this process, I believe that the world I know would be (even more) confusing to me.

Periodically I review what I have written and this helps me store ideas which I can focus on later. This works for me (although not perfectly) and it is a constantly changing process as I adapt it to my own personal growth and development. That is what I have done. What will work for you? 

If you would like to explore how to take control of social media more, I recommend studying Cal Newport’s social media detoxification tips3.

Take Control

Endless tips are available but no matter what you choose to do, you must realize that perfection does not exist. At the very least, write down your priorities and try different tactics to create a lifestyle based on your intention. Perfection does not exist so we should not seek it. Instead we should seek progress by trying things, monitoring progress, and adapting our activity accordingly.

If we want to lead others in a positive direction, we must start by leading within ourselves.

What are your priorities? How will you implement them? Media pundits, politicians, thought leaders, and others who benefit from division do not deserve to have unconscious influence over our patterns of thought and how we spend our time. The sooner we start, the sooner we can seize back control.

We must choose to act by building and maintaining our house, or we will be acted upon and our time and attention will be washed away.

Sources for further Exploration:

1Details of this study are available here.

2The concept of “infinity pools” is further explained in this and other writings by John Zeratsty.

3One of the things Cal Newport finds with people who try the “30-Day Social Media Detox” is that they are able to reset and focus on what is most important to them.

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