Back in 1974, in our rat infested student house, my friend Ivor Graham introduced me to Jackson Browne’s ‘Late for the Sky’ album. I’ve loved it ever since.
I’ve gone back to it this week – one positive about impending lockdown is that you get to create some emergency playlists – and I’ve been struck in particular by the timelessness of his song ‘Before the deluge’, and of how prescient it is in terms of the place we find ourselves to be right now.
One of his lines keeps going round and round in my head, as I read so many encouraging stories about the focus on kindness that’s emerging in so many communities:
‘With their hearts they turned to each other’s hearts for refuge’
And that’s what I’ve been reading about all over social media this week. Practical community springing up in all sorts of places. Neighbours putting themselves out for neighbours. People singing together on Italian balconies. Tonight I heard about 500 people forming a virtual choir.
I’m noticing it everywhere.
And it’s been through reflecting on this that I’ve noticed something else – that what I’m noticing this week is different. Before the virus, when I read the news, I noticed things that illuminated society’s broken divisiveness. Social media posts everywhere were full of anger – or, at least, the ones that caught my attention were angry. Ditto the newspaper headlines And all the political talking heads.
And, you know, I suspect that all this was making me a bit angry too. Or at least cynical. And critical. Because what we notice helps us make meaning out of our world. It feeds the logic that dictates the way we act. Shapes the person we become.
But, somehow, in the face of this ubiquitous virus I’m finding that my attention is being drawn to acts of kindness. I’m noticing the offers of help that abound on comment threads. I’m smiling at the beautiful poems being posted. I’m noticing that my friends and I are FaceTiming each other because we enjoy each others’ company and not just to ‘get stuff done’.
’What are you noticing about what you notice when you’re noticing?’ is a head wrecking question that I ask a lot in my coaching conversations. It’s a head wrecking question I’m asking myself a lot these days. And what I’m now noticing is the scale to which, across the planet, with our hearts we’re turning to each others’ hearts for refuge.
And I’m hoping that as we do that we make a different kind of meaning in our world and conclude that investing ourselves in large scale acts of kindness is a more meaningful way to live than investing $56,000 per second in large scale acts of war (Historical Defense Spending, 1970-2019. Data from the United States Office of Management and Budget archives, on Wikimedia Commons)
And I’m hoping that I myself will become a gentler, more encouraging, person as the meaning that I make when I look at the world around me also evolves.