Finding The Relevant
Although we oftentimes do not realize it, much of the time we seem to lose in our lives is lost because we focus on that which is irrelevant. What do I mean by irrelevant? Well . . . that which is unnecessary though it may genuinely appear to be important. You may have oftentimes heard the phrase, “It’s all in the details”. But if you think of it, how can that possibly be? If we were to focus all of our energy on the things in our lives that were of no lasting importance, what sort of lives would we end up living? And at the end our lives, what kind of regrets might we have?
Yes, details can be very important. But they can also be completely irrelevant. In fact, most of us lead lives in which the details get most of our attention as opposed to the things that matter most. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to die feeling as if all of his life had been wasted, frittered away on the meaningless. Yet this is a realization many people will have at some point in their lives, most likely when they feel it is too late to do much to change it. Susan Sontag once said, “Existence is no more than the precarious attainment of relevance in an intensely mobile flux of past, present, and future.”
It would seem Sontag shares my theory that relevance is something we must attain. That is, in a universe that has become nothing but details, unless we use critical thinking, we will be incapable of discriminating between the irrelevant and the relevant. Even though that which seems unimportant often is, more often than not what is important seems unimportant enough for us to put off doing it.
We too frequently live by the motto that tomorrow is another day without being consciously aware that every tomorrow was once a today. It will matter not if you have a purpose in your life if you never discover what it is. How talented, brilliant, or educated you are really will have no impact on what you achieve if you put your efforts into endeavors that are trivial. What George Herbert Mead would call the “locus of reality” is the relevant. But society creates so much confusion by overwhelming us with irrelevancy that it is not always easy to figure out what objective reality is.
However, if we only see the world through the windows of our own perception, we may very easily end up existing in a reality of our own making. It may be so far removed from true reality that if we ever should come out of this subjective world we will be not merely surprised but nearly traumatized. Every time we find ourselves puzzled over which task we should begin first among a list of tasks we have planned, it is always the difficulty in distinguishing the relevant from the irrelevant that throws us off base. When you think about it, there are very few occasions on which you would have more than two or three tasks of equal importance. So, how is it possible to have a dozen tasks planned without being able to decide where you should begin on your list?
To me, the age we now live in is a time when people seem to all be in a hurry more than ever. Yet, most of these people have no clear-cut direction in which they are headed. What good is it to hurry if you don’t know where you are going? We have managed to be pulled in so intensely by the fear that pervades our society that, much of the time, we are so anxious that we cannot possibly make clear-headed choices and decisions.
Thus, rather than stepping back and analyzing things, we simply jump forward. We imagine that if we act, we have accomplished something. But action without purpose is rather like a book without a subject. It has nothing by which to hold itself together. Instead of action, it is really just motion. For, action implies that there is an aim whereas motion can be completely mechanical.
If we were all automatons, no one would be able to blame us if we frittered our time away on trivial, empty activities. We would lack the mind to make conscious choices and would be at the mercy of the mechanical. Since we do have minds though, it does seem rather pointless of us not to use them to the best of our capacity.
The tricky part is separating what we think we already know from what is actually part of the truth. For once we have decided that we must do certain things, whether these things are important or not, we can deceive ourselves to the extent that finding what is relevant becomes impossible. Vision and clarity are essential. But without training our minds to discard everything that is irrelevant, self-awareness will lie outside our grasp. Although we may reach for it, the relevant will elude our efforts to capture it like a dream that ends at the moment we open our eyes.
The difference between our dreams and that which is relevant is that the one exists within the context of reality and the other doesn’t. At the same time, without relevancy, reality would seem almost as ephemeral as a dream for it would lack the inner core of its substance. Mead once said that being in the locus of reality was like standing before a boundless sea while gathering pebbles on the shore. The question is, which pebbles do we choose—the ones that will bring us closer to our dreams or the ones that will take us further away?
There are times when giving some attention to the irrelevant will do no harm, but since, in making each choice we give up another choice, we need to always keep relevancy in perspective. If we cherish our illusions more than our dreams, than we can remain addicted to the irrelevant and postpone the really important things until tomorrow . . . or next week, or next year. But if we would rather have a dream or two come true than to hold on to even a single one of our illusions, we must make a choice.
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This page and all written material at My Odyssey is written by Sascha Norris. (C) Copyright 2010 by Sascha Norris. All Rights Reserved