To What Should We Aspire?

How do you want to improve? To what should we aspire? If you don’t know where you want to go, it can be very difficult to get there.

We can hope and work to get better. That may mean personal improvement. It may mean local or community goals. Or even international or global ideals that we as a species hope to attain.

What do you, as an individual, aspire to? How will that be accomplished?

Related questions: Is happiness the most important purpose in life? How do you define success? What is important? How do you set priorities?

Is Understanding Possible?

As individuals, we all want other people to understand us. We want our co-workers to understand us, we want our friends to understand us, and we want our life partner to understand us. Understanding is important.

And yet, to some extent that’s not even possible. Fundamentally, we are each different beings, with our own thought processes that govern what we say and do.

Even people who know each other extremely well don’t know everything about each other. They still have the capacity to surprise each other with something they say or do. Ultimately, that makes sense, because no person has the same experiences, the same background, and the same genetics as you do.

But it goes even further than that. Really, you can’t even understand yourself. We might be too obsessed with our failures, and not enough with our successes. We don’t accurately see ourselves and our place in the world — we’re too close. It’s often easier to see someone else’s problems than it is to see our own.

On the other hand, some people do manage to accurately evaluate their own lives. Some couples are in relationships where they seem to finish each others’ sentences. There are some savvy business people who seem to know what their customers want before the customers themselves do. Siblings, particularly twins, who grow up together have a bond that they don’t share with anyone else.

But even in those cases, they are ultimately alone. We are born alone, and we die alone. Insight into someone else is not the same thing as true understanding.

Or is it? Is understanding possible?

Related questions: How important is intuition? Why do we care what strangers think of us? How does creative expression help us to know ourselves better? Who is the most important person in your life?

What Deserves Your Attention?

Our brains are remarkable entities. We can perform some truly amazing mental feats, like learning language, memorization, pattern matching, and reading maps (among others). One of the less heralded skills is that of providing attention.

Every waking moment, your mind is focused on a task (and sometimes more than one if you try to multi-task). How you choose to spend your time is how your attention is allocated.

In our modern world, there is fierce competition for our attention. This serves as an illustration about how valuable it is. Entire industries revolve around how to capture — and keep — your attention.

In The News

For example, let’s consider a cable news program. A typical news show features several different items for you to pay attention to. An interview might be going on, so you might be listening to the content being spoken aloud. There is likely a graphic with the guest’s name and qualifications. This sometimes also updates to a notable quote or excerpt from the interview.

In addition, there may be a news scroll across the bottom of the screen with news headlines, and there may be a “breaking news” blurb specifically designed to draw your eyes. Often included is some sort of steady information, like the current time and temperature, or the state of the stock market. Finally, there is certainly a station identifier, to let you know exactly what channel you are viewing.

Having so much information available serves several purposes. The primary purpose — say, the interview — is presumably the reason to tune in initially. The others are there to provide information that might be helpful to you, but also to keep you from giving your attention to another source.

When you are watching a program like this, your attention is primarily focused on one item. However, there is likely some small percentage of your attention on each element on the screen.

Demands Of Social Media

Have you ever noticed that when usingĀ  a social media site like Facebook or Twitter, that you mean to do a quick check, but then find that half an hour or even more has passed without you realizing it? That happens because the layout and design of these sites are carefully crafted to capture and keep your attention. Facebook wants you to keep scrolling and Netflix wants you to keep binging.

With so many different demands on our valuable attention, have you given any thought to how you spend your time? News, family, your smartphone, the local sports team, a book: what deserves our attention?

Related questions: How do you set priorities? Are we too busy? What do you get out of social media? Is our attention fractured?