We pay attention to things we care about. We do not pay attention things we don’t care about. Our attention directs our energy and drives our actions. It profoundly affects the course and quality of our lives. The more we pay attention to something, the more we invest ourselves in it.
So where do we put our attention? What observations, images, and pieces of information drive us? It seems that we care a lot about money and wealth. It gets a lot of attention in the news, and in the prevailing culture. The quarterly report on the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) which measures the overall flow of money in the economy is generally taken as the chief measure of the health of the economy. Consumer spending is watched as its major driver. Daily stock market variances are reported daily with the news headlines. Inflation reports the relative value of money, and the unemployment rate indicates the availability of jobs, which is generally seen as the ticket for being able to get money. It is assumed that all other indicators of social well being derive from progress on these economic measures.
Certainly everyone needs to have their basic needs met, and money is a tool for doing so. And when people can’t get their needs met, money is a big concern. But the attention paid to acquiring wealth goes well beyond what is needed. This is partly attributable to an economic system that needs to stimulate demand for goods and services in order to sustain economic growth. Advertising demands our attention to make us want more of whatever there is to sell. Wealth becomes too much of what we care about.
What if our society paid more attention to things that people care about? What if we cared about people’s health, their growth and achievements? Instead of caring about the volume of economic activity, what if we paid attention to the quality of people’s lives, and the strength of our connections to each other? If we pay more attention to the things that people care about, then we might find ways to make life better.
If we count the number of smiles and laughs we encounter in a day, we might find ways to have happier days. If we identify and pay attention to natural and artistic beauty in our community, then we might make more of it. If we pay attention to our neighbors, friends, and family, our relationships will become richer, deeper, and more plentiful. If we pay attention to people’s health, intellectual and artistic achievement, social connection we might have more human flourishing.
Taking the time to pay attention and observe our own community is where to start the process. If we observe what is happening with our neighbors or the children in our neighborhoods, or the conditions of our homes and public spaces, or the attitudes of people on the street, the playground, or the stores, then we might become more sensitive to what makes a better place. We show we care by paying attention.