Katrina Commemoration – Part I: It’s Past Time to Pay Attention
This is the first installment of our Katrina Commemoration Series.
1. Pay Attention
The way I see it, the main reason that people don’t act on things is because they are not paying attention to them. Think about it: the reason I don’t volunteer to mentor young people is because I ignore the need; the reason my woman is frustrated with me is because I am ignoring or not paying attention to her; the reason I don’t vote is because “I don’t pay attention to politics.”
The common thread here is ignorance. People hear or read the word ignorance and react to it like it’s a dirty word or an insult. What it is is a state of mind that presents an opportunity to share and to learn. The issue is not ignorance in and of itself, it is the apathy that is often coupled with it: not wanting or caring to know. It follows then that if we don’t want or care to know, we won’t pay attention.
We should seek to defeat apathy & ignorance at all costs, wherever we see it manifest itself. How can we do this? How can we become more collectively aware? It starts for most people as a reactionary choice, a reaction to something that someone said or did/did not do. In the cases of Katrina and Rita, the [lack of a] response to people’s needs from the government could inspire some to start caring, to start paying attention, to want to take such matters (e.g. responding to a disaster) into their own hands.
There is nothing wrong with this, it’s actually a good thing. However, this cannot be the only way we can be driven to pay attention. To paraphrase an earlier SuperSpade piece, “Successful collective action is not created from hatred, anger, or being “fed up,” or reacting, It is created out of love for and knowledge of self…” What that means is we need to pay attention before something goes down in order for our attitudes and actions to be sustainable. To use closer-to-home example, many of us (myself included) have a pretty reactionary approach to our own health: we don’t watch our diet until we get sick or gain weight, we don’t stretch before exercising until we pull a muscle, etc. In the same way that this has dangerous consequences in our personal health, the reaction-only approach to collective action also has dangerous consequences, the worst being the fact that we can forget what we were reacting to in the first place. Continuing with my analogy, most dieters end up gaining back the weight they [temporarily] lost because after they hit their ‘goal,’ they stop dieting or eating healthily. After a year, many people have literally forgotten about the travesty that ensued following the Gulf Coast hurricanes. The ignorance and apathy that we thought had been eliminated was simply on vacation.
Going forward, how do we avoid this from happening with regard to the hurricanes, or anything else? We can start be doing some homework. Instead of simply looking at what happened, look at how and why what happened happened. This will be effective on two levels. For those who insist in only acting in reaction to something, the more you investigate, the more likely you are to find things that lead you to want to act. On a second, more substantive level, the level of ignorance is lessened to the point of non-existence in the presence of exposure and knowledge. We can start by asking each other questions. You’d be surprised how much you can learn about a situation or a person by asking, “What do you think about X?” If you notice someone is passionate about something, ask them why they care so much. Even the lazy and apathetic talk. We can use this talk for educational purposes instead of using it kill brain cells. Let’s talk about what’s going on in our lives and in this world. Ask people what they are doing, what they are reading (The SuperSpade I hope!), what they are involved in. You may be surprised. Seeing and talking with other people caring about things that you care about is a great way to help you get over the hump and get involved (for my friends that “don’t pay attention to politics” from above, understand that politics is simply action-based conversation, and who hates that?). It can help you identify things that you are passionate about if you are unsure or unclear. Let’s talk with one another. Let’s listen to one another. Let’s share with one another. Let’s educate one another. Let’s uplift one another. Let’s pay attention to one another. That’s how it starts.
Awareness is critical to action. To be active, we must be aware. To be aware, care about our collective experience. To care, we must pay attention.
One Love. One II.