Positive Peace

I started my day today with a cup of coffee and a re-reading of MLK’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Every time I read this letter, something new stands out to me, and this morning, it was the term “negative peace” which King defines as the absence of tension (as opposed to positive peace which he defines as the presence of justice). Human history is long, and my lifetime is miniscule in comparison, but never in my short life have I witnessed a year more full of calls for negative peace than the one we just shared. And as I pondered that, some other words came to the front of my mind. “They have healed the brokenness of my people superficially, saying ‘peace, peace,’ but there is no peace.”

True peace does not exist in the face of injustice. The absence of tension is a band-aid that keeps falling off and exposing our wounds over and over until we decide to finally heal them. But the tricky part is this – negative peace is far easier to achieve than positive peace. It requires merely that we remain silent in the face of injustice. Negative peace is everywhere. It is the church that harbors sexual predators while silencing its victims in the name of peace. It is the family that tells its children not to share its secrets of abuse in the name of peace. It is the organization that pays settlements to those injured in return for their silence to keep the peace. It is every single one of us every time we try to silence someone for speaking truth by accusing them of sowing division or hatred when in fact they seek positive peace. They seek the presence of justice. It is not those seeking justice who are responsible for division. Where there is injustice, there is already division, and that division will never be overcome by silence. Those who are not ready to walk the road of positive peace could at least stop being a roadblock, crying out for negative peace, to those who are ready and willing to walk the harder path. That would a true gift of service to honor MLK.

There is much to learned from the leadership and scholarship of MLK, but it requires that we go beyond the single, out of context quotes and memes we share once a year on this day. They are beautiful and true, but we should treat them like the jacket copy for a book. We should let them invite us in to his more complete body of written and spoken words, and dig unflinchingly into the wisdom he offers within, wisdom we can contextualize and apply to our lives today. The Letter from a Birmingham Jail is a great place to start if you’ve never read it in its entirety.

Teaching Our Phones Some Manners

My last post seemed to resonate with some of you, and thank you to those who reached out to me as well. If looking up from the phone is a goal of yours this year and you want to talk, well, I’m here, even though I recognize the absurdity of the fact that you’ll have to contact me by said phone. Here’s how far gone/addicted I am – my first instinct was that maybe we need a Facebook group to talk about these things! Um, no. We do not need another Facebook group. Old habits die hard. But like I said in my last post, this is not about quitting my phone or social media, but rather about approaching it with a renewed sense of agency and intention. I’ll probably keep sharing on the subject for those who want to follow along. For the rest of you, please feel free to scroll on by!

Earlier this week we went over to our friend’s house to play board games and her four-year-old had all the requests. If you have young kids, or ever had them, you likely remember the toddler/preschool years well. As soon as you sit down to do anything, your toddler needs something urgently. And toddlers do not prioritize needs. Needing help in the bathroom or needing a cheese stick or needing you to brush their doll’s hair are of equal urgency – all code red. It was amusing in the way it can only be when your kids have outgrown that particular stage. But later that night, I started thinking about the way our phones are a lot like toddlers. They demand our attention, they don’t distinguish between the urgent and non-urgent, they are more than willing to interrupt us no matter what we are doing. But unlike our toddlers, who we love and are in the process of raising to become independent adults, our phones will remain in the toddler years forever if we don’t do something about it. The good news is that we can train our phones a lot faster than we can train our toddlers. We have all the tools we need, right there on the phone itself.

If you are ready for your phone to grow up a little, here are some quick ways to teach it some manners:

1. Turn off all notifications for anything non-urgent. This means different things to different people, but for me, it’s basically everything. My phone only makes noise when it rings, or there is an emergency alert. It does not alert me to text messages, I have no notifications turned on for any apps, it does not tell me that I have new email. If this sounds extreme to you, well, maybe it is. But once upon a time (ie- less than a decade ago) we all lived our lives this way and we somehow functioned and were possibly less anxious. The email is still there, but it waits until I am ready to answer it. That photo a friend posted to Instagram isn’t going anywhere. And even text messages can sit unread for a moment if I’m engaged in other work or having a one-on-one conversation. If you aren’t ready to turn off all notifications, try turning off just some of them for a week and remember what 2010 felt like when you were not constantly interrupted.

2. Teach your phone to prioritize. For me, this means assigning different ring tones to different people. My children’s schools have their own ring tones for example, so if I’m deeply involved in a project and my phone rings, I’ll know if it is the school calling with a possible sick kid. I’m fairly certain you can personalize text alert sounds too, so you know if it’s your boss texting or Jo-Ann’s Fabric for the 1,000th time that week.

3. Put your phone in time out if it’s misbehaving. What’s time out? The power button on the side of the phone. It is okay to turn off the phone. I realize sometimes it’s not okay, like when you are at work, but we should all be able to identify some chunk of time in a given week when it would be acceptable to just shut the thing off and walk away. It will be there when you get back, and unlike your toddler, it will not cry while it is in time out.

4. Download apps that help you use your phone as a tool for you, instead of being used by your phone. I mentioned Moment in my last post, which is a great app to try if you want to get a baseline look at how you are currently using your phone. I also love Freedom, which allows you to block certain apps for a certain period of time.

5. Ask yourself “why?” all day long. Okay, so this is actually making you behave like a toddler, but it works. Every time you pick up your phone, before you open a single app, ask yourself “Why am I opening my phone right now?” and then identify what you intend to do. Challenge yourself to only do the thing you intended to do, then put your phone back down. Asking “why” for even just a week can start to retrain your brain’s responses to how you engage with your phone.

I hope something on this list helps you out. And as far as your actual toddlers go, good luck! Unless you are looking for picture book recommendations, you’re on your own there. 😉

Look Up

Happy New Year friends!

I hope all of you had some good moments over the holidays, time with people you love, time to reflect on the past year, or even just time for a nap. Since I’m a sucker for arbitrary markings of time (birthdays, anniversaries, back to school, the days they change the dollar spot bins at Target for new holidays), I spent some time doing the whole New Year’s thing this past week. I took a trip down memory lane of photographs, reflecting on some goals and celebrating the ones I managed to achieve in a hard year, and I set some new intentions for 2018. Let’s just say it’s a lot of fun to live with me and there’s been sufficient eye-rolling from my teen/tween sons when I ask them about their goals for 2018.

And now I’m bringing that same fun to you! Here’s what I asked my family: If you could have 872 extra hours this year, would you take them? To save you from doing the math, it’s a little over two hours a day. How about even half of that? Just one extra hour a day to fill any way you want. Maybe getting after those goals you set yesterday. You don’t even have to know how you’d spend it. Just, would you take it? According to numerous studies, we are spending about 872 hours a year staring into our mobile devices. Maybe you are thinking that can’t be true, that you absolutely do not spend over two hours a day on your phone, the internet, social media, but it adds up. Every time we pick it up to “just check” and get sucked down the rabbit hole of Twitter. Every time we are doing two things at once, like checking our phones while cooking dinner, or scrolling Instagram while carrying on a conversation. Or maybe you’re thinking that sounds low. Maybe you know you spend more than two hours a day on your phone. Maybe, like me, you’ve downloaded one of those apps like Moment that tells the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about how much of your day, even fragmented, you are handing away to that tiny device in your hand. And maybe that truth was a little hard to swallow. It was for me. I spent a good amount of time in 2017 reflecting on this topic and observing the world around me. I took multiple, long breaks from all social media. I took informal polls at red lights (about a third of all drivers have a cell phone in their hands in my town on average) and restaurants (about a half of all diners are actively engaged with their phones while sitting across a table from another human). It is no exaggeration to say that with each passing year, less people are looking up.

We look a lot like this a lot of time.

I’m no luddite. I’m not trading in my MacBook for a typewriter or my smart phone for a landline anytime soon. But of all the hours I spent last year, I would, without hesitation, take back some of the ones I spent online. Not all of them, not even close. This isn’t a blanket judgement about time spent online, but rather an examination of how much of that time is intentional.

And I can only answer for myself.

The time I spent online learning, making meaningful connections with people I care about, watching a show I love, those aren’t the hours I would trade. But there are many hours I would take back if I could, and some of them were spent on things that could be considered good things. Sometimes it’s hardest to say no to a good thing. I also know exactly what I’d trade them for. Maybe that’s true for you too? You can do a lot with an extra hour a day. You can run 1,000 miles in a year like a friend of mine did last year. You can read several books. You can learn to cook. You can learn a new instrument. You can write a whole book. You can play outside with your kids, or go on a date, or talk on the phone with a distant friend. You can take a nap. You can do anything you want really. But wouldn’t it be nice if it were a thing you chose instead of a thing you did out of a habit that isn’t serving you, those you love, or the life you are trying to create?

I realize this very long post is not for all of you. I know that many of you have this figured out. I have a pretty exceptional role model for this that lives in my house. It’s probably only for a very small handful of you, but if it is for you, I wanted you to know you are not alone. If you have ever looked down at your phone and had a desire to just throw it into the nearest body of water, you are not alone. And if this is the year that you want to get a handle on it, you’re not alone there either. I’m with you. I won’t be on Facebook nearly as much in 2018. I intend to spend this year looking up. And I hope that when I do, I see your face looking back at mine.