I’ve never become more aware of the strawman ‘evil rich person’ I painted in my mind than I have in recent years.
Having grown up with an easy to accept construct fed from family and cable news, telling me rich people are not to be trusted, how evil they are, how elitist they act, I had a strawman figure to punch at and get laughs or approval from within my immediate circles.
But then I inevitably ran into my first compassionate and empathetic, let’s say, well to do person. And another. And some more.
Jon Stewart could shout down the rich elite all he wanted to on The Daily Show as I was growing up, and I watched plenty of hours of Stephen Colbert portraying a cold heartless and full of themselves media elitist, but until I shared a meal with, or got second hand anecdotes about the rich person who has several charities going, lives in proportionally modest housing (spending way less of a total percentage on their living conditions than the average American), and wrote books talking about their tough life lessons learned in order to help others………..
Until all that, my attention had been focused on the strawman. And I lived by what my attention was focused on.
With the rise of internet groups and online communities, the main negative result from huddling among similar group think is the echo chamber drawing your attention narrower and narrower.
There are some social media accounts I follow which are incredible at their level of sarcasm. In a world quickly squeezing out humor, no wonder Instagram accounts of ridiculous but witty memes make their rounds.
I’ve also followed accounts which only focus on ills of society and humanity. Not even in the over the top outrage fashion, but accounts simply dealing with topics like mental health, church abuse, and global political affairs to name a few. Just following those topics alone, even if they focus on solutions, creates a sort of disproportional amplification of the topic at hand.
My attention draws to the mental ills plaguing many people, and then I keep thinking about things affecting people even as rare as some of the topics are.
Causes are great when they champion things which need resolved. But is it possible we are creating echo chambers in our own mind, drawing our attention which is limited by capacity and time, to things which are yes important, but not as common as we are imagining them to be?
John Mark Comer says in his book The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, “what you give your attention to is the person you become.” (54)
Epictetus, the stoic philosopher, similarly stated “You become what you give your attention to.”
Many others have dispensed this wisdom in one form or another. And it really is wisdom because this is both an encouragement and a warning.
My strawman evil-rich-people example took years to realize how, if my attention is on a group of people I can attack and paint as corrupt and made responsible for society’s ills, a couple of things are occurring which are not beneficial in the long run:
- I can ultimately absolve myself from some levels of personal responsibility because in the grand scheme of things, I’m not pulling the larger strings and thus can’t do much about disastrous conditions society find itself in. It’s the rich elite’s fault, not mine.
- I can grow my anger and bitterness at something nebulous and abstract, and let those attributes flourish more as a result of throwing my personal responsibility hands up in the air and walk away skating by in life.
Neither are good.
What has shifted is my attention. What I placed it on.
I had people in my life, both that I knew and people I read or followed, that got wealthy. And their motivations were rooted in how to help a certain segment of people with a problem they faced. Their focus on this produced a byproduct of wealth. Wealth was not their object of their attention, but solving the problem people face was their object of their attention.
Giving this specific of an example helps me speak to the broader observation.
Where you or I place our daily attention on will very literally shape who we become.
In this blog’s theme is the focus that our echo chambers of social media and forum communities are merely allowing us perpetual 24/7 access to not only the thing we may like at the moment or agree with above other schools of thought, but to pound into our narrative the strawman version of the other, the non-member of our school of thought.
We become more of what we continually pay our attention towards. Even if those ideas are flimsy at best. We’ve dug our heels in and are too far down a certain ideological path to retreat, especially knowing only the inaccurate caricature we have portrayed as our villain.
The more good natured, problem solving, making things better wealthy people I encounter, the more I’ve significantly altered my tune.
The more I focused my attention on how people solve problems to begin with, the more I became a problem solver.
Where I’ve decided to place my attention is exactly the type of person I am becoming.
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