That’s a loaded question isn’t it?
If someone asked me how aware I am I’d probably respond with “of course I’m aware, I’m a journalist, it is literally my job to be aware.” Simply asking that question almost comes off as an insult. Nonetheless it’s a powerful question and one worth asking. It’s also far deeper than just being relatively informed in the news.
I think the question of awareness can be broken down into five categories: world, community, work, family and self. If I was a self-help guru I’d imagine you could organize that as some “pyramid of awareness” with self as the bottom largest block (because self is everything nowadays) leading up to the capstone of world. Billions of people across history were pretty aware of what was going on with themselves but had no clue what was happening on the other side of the world. After all, Moses seems like he was a pretty on the ball type of guy but I don’t think he was up to speed on what was happening in Shang Dynasty China.
I’m not a self-help guru though, I’m a lawyerish policy wonk. Naturally with this question my first thought isn’t something deep, it’s “what do you mean by aware? what do you mean by world or self?” The answers aren’t going to be in Black’s Law Dictionary so we have to answer them for ourselves.
To me, awareness isn’t just being informed on pertinent current events but it’s having an understanding of those events, their relation to yourself and others, and background knowledge to help with decision making. In a way its similar to knowledge but with an understanding of the immediate events that knowledge can be applied to and a working understanding of how to apply them. Basically the information you need to apply knowledge and action. The old adage is “knowledge is power” but I’ve met countless very brilliant, very useless people. Conversely we all know countless people who are “take action” types but lack any form of awareness or knowledge. Action without knowledge and knowledge without action are the philosophical equivalents of an exercise bike, you’re just putting in a lot of effort to go nowhere fast.
For “self” I would say that is anything that currently impacts you as a person. Taking the above definition of awareness you could ask “are you aware of your level of fitness?” or “how aware are you of your emotional state as a person?”. From self we simply work our way up the chain. “Are you aware of what’s happening with your grandparents or your cousins?”, “are you aware of personnel issues at work?”, “do you know the major issues facing your city or state?” “how about the issues facing us as a nation or facing the world?” I imagine a lot of people would say they know a lot about these aspects, or maybe one or two and would say the others aren’t that important. I would also imagine there is a lot of misinformation and lies flying around. This could range from things like fake news and left/right national talking points to the little lies we tell ourselves each day such as “I can justify this pizza or not working out” or “last I checked things were good with my relatives so I assume that’s the same.” That all sounds innocent and small but you conveniently ignore that you haven’t worked out in a month and the last time you checked in with your relatives was Thanksgiving or Christmas.
That’s all philosophical and great Brett but what’s the point here?
The point is this, are you spinning your wheels or are you actually going somewhere? Are you taking comfort in outdated or select fragments of knowledge despite having little to no actual awareness of a situation?
I mentioned in a December post that 2017 would be the year of the alarmist. While I don’t think that’s far off, it certainly is the year of the protester so far. While I certainly do not think these protests are unfounded nor will I stand in anyone’s way to become more politically active or involved, much of this reeks of Occupy Wall Street and we saw how that turned out.
Of the protests we have seen so far, only the protests around President Trump’s immigration executive order the second week of his term seemed to have a singular goal and some action based organization. It is one of the reasons I think the pushback against the Order was so swift and decisive. During the first 72 hours of the Order’s implementation, confusion turned into quick action, people knew that airports were the locations to coalesce their protests around, pro bono lawyers quickly set up shop to assist travelers stuck in limbo and the ACLU wasted no time in taking a national lead in pursuit of a temporary injunction and then larger legal challenges.
Other protests were a combination of many issues and acted proactively mostly against the idea of Trump and what he represents. This was the same mentality that derailed Occupy Wall Street which began as a protest against massive investment firm’s role in the Great Recession and turned into a general liberal protest in favor of a multitude of reforms and against the general idea of corruption and greed.
More than anything, the key is taking awareness and marrying it with action to achieve an organized goal. We’ve seen flashes of this today but many people appear to be missing this point and are just spinning their wheels in an effort to express their frustrations.
Let’s flashback to the mid-twentieth century and the Civil Rights Movement. This movement was filled with tons of protests as well as tons of rioting and destruction. Lots of people were spinning their wheels in frustration and anger but with few goals beyond releasing their pent up rage. Lucky for us, many people were applying their full awareness of their situation to action and achieving results. This proper application worked to shatter decades old legal frameworks that segregated society and held back blacks. We celebrate the legacy of Rosa Parks to this day as this defiant woman who refused to give up her bus seat in the face of pointless segregation and rightfully so. We are also quick to forget that the Montgomery Bus Boycotts were meticulously analyzed and selected beforehand for a widespread protest by civil rights leaders who had an extremely keen awareness of their situation. E.D. Nixon, a local NAACP chapter president, actually selected Parks’ arrest as the incident that would be utilized as a test case over a pregnant teenager because of Parks employment, marital status and standing in the community. This is just one example of many from this movement. Heck, Thurgood Marshall’s early legal career reads like a “how to change public policy for dummies” instruction manual. Many know that Marshall was the first black Supreme Court Justice. You might not know that he and his mentor, Charles Hamilton Houston, spent years traveling the south taking segregation test cases and absolutely demolishing them one after the other leading to Brown v. Board of Education which rules segregation in public schools to be unconstitutional. If you need an example of someone being fully aware of their situation and utilizing it to take action, look no further than Marshall. He combined a brilliant legal mind, a thorough understanding of segregation, and knowledge of the political situation of blacks in America, Americans in general and America amongst the nations of the world. All of this awareness combined to make his legal team the epitome of professionalism in the court room, savvy in the selection of their test cases and fact findings, and be able to take a legal wrecking ball to segregation defeating the states at their own game.
That is just one example of the marriage of action and awareness undertaken to achieve national and community goals. It’s easy to get disheartened because not all of us will have the skill, luck and traits that allow someone like Thurgood Marshall to be the important historical figure he became. Especially now, with billions of people in the world and an ever increasing cut throat environment pertaining to everything from grades to finances to career goals, it is so easy for the individual to shrink into their comfort zone and believe they cannot impact things. To an extent that is true at the world level, and even at the community level, but the good news is you can utilize awareness to make real meaningful impacts down that pyramid.
Let’s take self awareness for example. You can effectuate real change in your life right now by honestly answering a number of simple questions. Just as an example here are five questions that, if answered honestly, can begin to make real tangible change in your life today:
- What is the current status of your health?
- How are you doing at work/school?
- What skills do you have that most other people lack?
- What is the status of your immediate familial and personal relationships?
- What is your financial situation?
Admittedly those are tough questions and for most people, if they answer honestly with true self-awareness, the answers might not be that great. The good news is you now have several areas you know need work and you can break them down into achievable goals. If you want to improve your health, take stock of your diet and exercise, begin tracking food, clean up your diet, start making meals at home using ingredients you buy at the store, 10 minutes of googling can bring up diet plans and exercise plans that you can begin working on. Breaking things down into easily achievable goals like this can be applied to work situations, finances, relationships and much more. Beyond self you can even work things to start benefiting your family, your workplace, and you community. Adding a ten minute call or two a week to family and friends will benefit everyone. Being proactive at work, taking initiative, shoring up problem areas you might have, even arriving ten minutes earlier than you had before can go miles in the workplace. For community, you’d be shocked how many organizations need volunteers and help, how many clubs and organizations you can join, and how many local elected positions are left unfilled or ripe for the picking from someone who probably needs the political boot (this is especially prevalent at municipal positions like city council or school board. In some states even running for state representative is relatively “easy”.).
The point of this is, true awareness can benefit you personally, your family, work and community and perhaps that can even trickle up to positively impacting the world. Spinning your wheels and releasing pent up frustration accomplishes very little in the grand scheme of things and yelling into the online echo chamber about national politics is somehow less than useless. It can even be dangerous. As Teddy Roosevelt said:
“To sit home, read one’s favorite paper, and scoff at the misdeeds of the men who do things is easy, but it is markedly ineffective. It is what evil men count upon the good men’s doing.”
Expand your knowledge, work on your awareness, ask yourself tough questions, constantly be working yourself, and commit to action from there. You’d be shocked what you can accomplish for yourself and the larger world.
“We must show, not merely in great crises, but in the everyday affairs of life, the qualities of practical intelligence, of courage, of hardihood, and endurance, and above all the power of devotion to a lofty ideal, which made great the men who founded this Republic in the days of Washington, which made great the men who preserved this Republic in the days of Abraham Lincoln.”