It’s been a bit difficult to write recently. The easiest excuse would be to say that the podcast has taken up the time I would have otherwise spent on blog posts. We’re not recording as often as we used to, so that isn’t really a good excuse anymore (if it ever was).
While I’ve written dozens of drafts in the last nine months, nearly every one started off sounding like a whiny “letter to the editor”. This latest site redesign has given me a chance to look at some of my earlier offerings here. That process made it clear to me that this is not a new challenge.
I’ve encountered a recurring temptation to take the day’s latest outrage, bliss, or novelty, personalize it, then spit it right back out into the echo chamber. It’s not immediately apparent that those kind of posts are in short supply on today’s web.
Old-school periodicals have someone in the loop with the authority to decide which letters and articles should be published, and which (for the sake of the reader, publication, or even writer) should be dropped in the trash can.
In the age of social media and comment forms, that sort of oversight is no longer generally feasible. The rewards (and consequences) of instant response and feedback can be habit forming. It's easy to let those habits seep into everyday life as well.
Taking a deeper look, it’s surprising how often a “letter to the editor” mental process seems to be running in the background of my mind. It’s like I’ve got an amateur critic riding-along, offering color commentary on why things are good, bad, or getting in my way.
Without careful attention, these observations are often generalized and turned into templates that my mind heedlessly imposes on the world-at-large. Those mental shortcuts are a perceptual filter that makes it easy to ignore or minimize the real complexity that surrounds us. It’s striking how much of my mind’s running critique seems to be about choosing sides – about determining what to stand with and what to stand against.
Much of my life I’ve tried to shut this process down completely. It’s not like there’s a simple command like
killall critic you can run in your brain’s terminal window. Every time I try to Force Quit my judgementalism it just comes back, usually louder than before.
Instead I’m trying to pay attention to those judgemental thoughts just long enough to recognize what’s going on. As the editor of your own mind, you’ve got to read those mental “letters” whether you want to or not, but you’re under no obligation to publish them. They’re just thoughts, and most of them are neither accurate nor eloquent when viewed with a focused eye.
Once that recognition occurs you’ll notice how often your mind gets carried away by anticipation, fear, and anger. While there are certainly some thoughts in there that deserve more attention and consideration, most of mine I discard entirely.
What’s left is a perspective that’s richer, more balanced, and more measured. It usually leaves me with the realization that I have more in common with the triumphs and troubles of the world than is comfortable to admit.