How often do you ponder what you’re doing and why? Our “just do it” culture admires action and denigrates contemplation as “overthinking.”
This prejudice in the English-speaking world is old. Rhetoric accompanying Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries expressed distrust of contemplation while it praised action. Hamlet’s misgivings about deep thinking also reflect this bias.
Izaak Walton’s 17th-century The Complete Angler championed a balance of action and contemplation to counter the turmoil of the English civil wars. Here, fishing illustrated the virtuous fellowship that can arise from this necessary equilibrium.
Many acknowledge the importance of an examined life, but attitudes against contemplation live on. With the bootstrap mindset favoring the self-made-man comes a bias for “doing” in favor of “thinking.”
Action without contemplation is robotic; like twin plane engines, they must balance each other. This composure is obvious to a farmer who ponders the seasonal cycle or to a trucker whose solitary hours benefit from contemplation.
But many feel our attention fraying from work and parenting duties. We “busy-brag” and view contemplation as a “luxury.” Instead, during small breaks, we “veg out” and allow electronic distractions to rule.
Active habits are honed in quiet moments, serving us well in daily scenarios and emergencies. Like Walton’s fly-fisher who seeks empathy and goodwill, continually cast back on whether your thoughts and actions have matched your best intentions.
In turn, by correcting your actions casting forward, the wiser presentations will yield a clearer sense of purpose against the snags that will surely come.
I’m Bill Gahan, and that’s my perspective.