Be Unrushed.

Quite often the place we least want to be is where we currently are. This is, in part, because we are thinking about what we need to do in the future. If whatever is happening right now could just end, we could get on with things. This is a treadmill scenario, common in our default mode. 

The result is a disservice to the present moment. Whatever we are doing, or whoever we are with, will not receive our complete attention, so long as we feel we have something else to do. It doesn’t take long to see that this is an unfree way of being. We are shackled by the future – by things that haven’t yet occurred – to the detriment of the only thing we do have; our present experience. 

The feeling of some urgent demand on our time – real or perceived – creates tension in our relationships. It raises fraught questions including, “Whose time is more important?” or, “Why don’t they respect my time?” The concept of time autonomy is central here. One person’s autonomy quickly abuts another’s. Anyone who has ever been left waiting for someone else understands the anxiety and ill will that pervades. 

To be sure, there are scenarios when true urgency arises, when one must be fussed about moving on to other matters: medical triage, a child in trouble, danger lurking. But these are not our usual state. To free ourselves, to embrace the present, we need to be aware of the divide between things that quickly demand our attention, and everything else. Most often, the ‘everything else’ can wait. We don’t have to rush headlong into whatever just so happened to surface in our consciousness. The present moment deserves our attention. There is beauty within it that is easily missed. 

In exercising our time autonomy, however, we must not expect others to bend to our will. Simply because we decided to focus on something does not mean that someone else need do the same, let alone share the same level of caring. That is up to them. Just as we demand respect from others on how we choose to spend our time, so too should we respect their choice. This lesson comes home to roost for parents. 

Young children don’t understand this concept. They want things to happen right now, demanding their parents to drop everything and buy in. Parents are then confronted with a challenge, weighing whether the child’s demands are reasonable, realistic, urgent, versus whether they should supersede the parent’s own interests in the moment. Not an easy decision, and one many of us have fumbled countless times. Within this, though, there is an opportunity to learn and to teach. Being honest with ourselves and with others, along with open communication, will go a long way. 

Every day presents us with challenges like this. We overcome them and we grow. But we are best able to do so by heeding the present moment with the slowness it requires. We must do our best, in whatever we find ourselves doing, to be unrushed. 

Be well.

Remember what is important.

Most of us are craving the return to normal life right now. The same life that we used to complain about before it all changed. This reveals an interesting phenomenon of the human experience. We quickly adapt to any context in which we find ourselves. No doubt, this has served us exceptionally well over the millennia of our evolution. We have been taken from the savannah to complex nation states fueled by economies and governed by layers of bureaucracy. For the most part, we are unaware of our individual adaptation as it occurs. It is usually only when we consider the stark differences between our lives a decade ago and now that it partially sinks in. However, when we are confronted with a significant change to our lifestyle, en masse, it reallysinks in.

The default manifestation of our adaptation to the present context is taking things for granted. Many of us enjoy going to the gym or stopping by the coffee shop. These activities become a part of our routines, so much so, that they may start to seem mundane. You can easily skip a day and not think much of it. But when the ability to do these things is literally taken away, we realize how important it really was. We also realize how much of a privilege it was. 

This is where the Stoic principle of negative visualization can be useful. The Stoics suggest that we should frequently consider that we could lose anything we care about in an instant. Tragedy could befall us or those we care about at any time. This exercise isn’t meant to invoke fear or anxiety, rather acting as a reminder to be fully engaged in what we are experiencing right now.

Any time you go to the gym, sip your coffee, hug your child, or connect with a friend, could be the last time you have that opportunity. Remember this, and you will act as though these things are as important as they truly are. 

Be well.

Be kind. Be curious. Be useful. And create.

My children are too young to have nuanced conversations about philosophies of life. Yet, I often think about the type of advice we should be giving them on how to live a meaningful life. While they may not recognize advice for what it is, at this point, I am mindful that we are already modeling the values and behaviours we believe most important. The result of my thinking on this is a simple and foundational list of recommendations:

Be kind. Be curious. Be useful. And create.

I see this as both a starting and ending point. Before starting anything, if you commit to being kind, curious, and useful, you will stand to make the most of it. When you’ve come to the end of a project or phase of life, no matter the outcome, and you can honestly say that you were kind, curious, useful, and that you created something, then you have succeeded. 

Be kind.

Kindness is giving others the benefit of the doubt, listening to their stories, or stepping in when help is needed. We are dependent on so many people for so many things, but often take this for granted. Everyone has a story when the kindness of a loved one, neighbour, or stranger helped them in a time of need. No reciprocation expected. We are at our best when we have mutual respect for one another. We shed the weight of suspicion, hate, unnecessary competition.  When we are kind, we allow others to flourish. We grow along with them. It starts early with our children. They see how we treat others. We must show them and tell them what it means to be kind.

Be curious.

One of the great joys of being human is our ability to learn. Children embody this for us. They have an incredible sense of wonder. A deep desire to explore everything. My four-year-old asks questions that I don’t know how to answer. “Why do we dream?” “Where does the wind come from?” What an amazing opportunity to learn together. This never has to stop. But it does. Something happens in adulthood. We become entrapped by the lives we have created for ourselves, with rigid schedules and rules. There’s no time to explore. But we must. Our children need to see the same joy in us, when we learn something new, that they experience themselves. Education, innovation, and progress depend on our insatiable curiosity. 

Be useful.

To live in a vibrant and productive society we need people to put skills into action. Look around you. Everywhere you go there is evidence of peoples’ work. Children need to have this pointed out. How was our house built? Who put these roads here? How does that airplane fly in the sky? The answer, in each case, involves people coming together to do useful things for our mutual benefit. At some point, our children will have to decide where to focus their efforts. This will depend on their natural and learned abilities over time. We must help them know that there are more ways to contribute than one can think of. But above all, whatever you do, be sure that it’s useful. When we do something useful, we know that our work is valued and that we have given back to the society on which we depend. 

And create.

Note that I have not said “Be creative.” I believe when people think of creativity as something that you are, rather than what you do, their view quickly narrows to the arts. While the arts are a beautiful manifestation of what people can produce, we can also create in other ways. Create friendship and community. Create love. Create joy. Create suspense. Create a new perspective. Create a car out of Lego. The possibilities are truly endless. The only limit is imagination, and our children should be encouraged to use theirs’ extensively. The peak of human achievement is when we have created something, together, that generations before would never have thought was possible. This is the power of humanity and a pillar of our sense of meaning and fulfillment. 

These recommendations work together. Being kind forges strong relationships and opens doors before you. Curiosity brings you to the brink of what has not yet been created. Being useful develops your skills to contribute to the progress of society. Creating something for others brings us together and moves us forward. 

If you’re looking for advice to give your children on how to be, I hope you find these simple recommendations of use. Discuss it with them. Model it for them. Grow together.