How self-understanding might help us quit shouting

(RNS) A simple Internet transaction today opened my eyes. I just signed up for a time-tracking app called Toggl. Not because I was having trouble keeping track of work time and projects. I just thought it looked interesting.

What will happen next? That’s the mystery. I might use it for a while and decide it’s more trouble than it’s worth.

But I could be surprised. I could discover that tracking the time I devote to specific tasks will change how I work — or even more, change how I understand myself.

The quest, as always in self-understanding, is knowing what matters to me, where I place my values. The point isn’t to root out wasted time or to fulfill some external standard. The point is to see how I actually pour out my life. Given freedom, how do I use it?

For example, when I track my time, I will discover that I spend hardly any time working or worshipping in a congregation. I spend many hours each week dealing with faith — writing, praying, reading — but after three decades of total immersion in church life, I am disengaged. What does that mean?

Or take Facebook. For a time, I decided Facebook was a total “time suck.” But then I noticed myself reading in-depth articles posted there about police violence and violence against women. I don’t directly inhabit either topic, but it is vital that I know about them.

Facebook, in turn, has led me to news sites like Salon and Medium, as well as conservative outlets. I realize that I am hungry for insights into the America that actually is emerging — not the stick-figure stereotypes offered by politicians or TV ads, but the voices of people themselves.

Will Toggl make me more efficient as a time manager or more effective as a writer? Probably not. But I hope to grow in my self-understanding.

If I could wish anything for our troubled nation in these fractious times, it would be greater self-understanding. Not in the sense of narcissistic self-obsession, but in knowing what lies beneath our fervent feelings.

Rather than just shout at each other, we should understand why we feel so strongly. It has been immensely helpful to look inside black rage over police brutality. I think we need to know, too, why police officers behave the way they do. Rather than vilify each other, seek to comprehend.

We once did this work of self-discovery and other-discovery over the cracker barrel, in church and at the back fence. Now we inhabit bubbles — living and working with our own kind, hanging out with the like-minded, mostly staying safe inside. The “other” is a stranger and threat.

Dealing with bubble-living is way beyond the capacity of a time-tracking app, of course. But the way to civility will be walked one step, one self-discovery, one other-engagement at a time.

By attaining more self-understanding, we lay ground for understanding the one who is shouting at us. Maybe then we can listen and not just shout back.

comments powered by Disqus