Saturday, February 24 , 2018, 1:44 pm | Fair 59º


Tim Durnin: Discovering What Is More Important

Our national vision has become blurred, and it's up to us — the citizens — to get us refocused

When I was teaching I used to start all of my classes in the same way, asking the same generic question. “What do you want? What do you really, really want?” Students would dutifully take out their pens and begin to write. Most of them wrote short, innocuous sentences. I want to be happy. I want to be rich. I want to be a professional athlete.

And then there were the few in each class who wrote in much greater detail, kids who clearly knew what they wanted and could paint a detailed picture of their future with their words. These were the students who did not need direction, turned in every assignment and usually led the class academically — for obvious reasons. It’s a whole lot easier to blaze a trail when you actually know where you are going.

The next step in my introductory lesson was to have the students create as clear a picture as possible of what they really wanted. I wrote the list of what they wanted on one side of the board, point A, and on the other side of the board I wrote “GOAL,” point B.

Then I explained that there was one simple secret to getting from point A to point B: “If you ever stray from the path, you have to find out what is more important than reaching your goal and make a decision. Is the goal more important to m, or is the thing distracting me from that goal more important?” It really is that simple.

I continued, “Many of you will be distracted by love, by alcohol, kids and family, drugs, laziness and sometimes just plain boredom. Not all of these things are bad, but finding out what they are makes the journey a whole lot easier if you really want to get where you are going.”

I’ve thought a great deal about this lesson, how it applies to my own life — sometimes painfully so — but more recently how it applies to our nation, our politics. Writing between the two national conventions it seems clear we have lost any sense of a “national vision,” a definite direction and goal. In the past there may have been different paths but pretty much consensus on the ends.

Now as we look for some reasonable national path, our goal is muddied and muddled. The national interests are now separated and residing in opposite corners. As long as this polarity remains there is little hope of re-creating and embracing a national vision, a national direction.

Our inability to reflect on and take responsibility for “what is more important” than the greater good of the nation has paralyzed us. We have been unwilling to look back and take responsibility and are unable to see those things keeping us mired in our current disorder.

What is more important? Here is my list.

» Profits are more important than people.

» Wealth is more important than justice.

» Being right is more important than compromise.

» Winning is more important than integrity.

» Comfort is more important than action.

» Fear is more important than freedom.

» Righteousness is more important than community.

» Party loyalty is more important than individual conviction.

» Money for a campaign is more important than the character of the candidate.

» Sound bites are more important than reasoned arguments.

» Corporations are more important than constituents.

» Opinions are more important than facts.

» Deception is more important than science.

» What people say is more important than what people do.

» Appearance is more important than accountability.

The first lesson is to get a very clear picture of where we want to go. The second lesson is to decide as a people we are willing to acknowledge and dismiss everything that distracts us from that end — every petty interest that raises it head in protest saying, “No, this is more important.”

That is our hope, and we can’t rely on leaders who are mired in the demands of special interests to set our path. It must come from us, from those courageous and daring enough to put less important things aside and blaze a trail to some collective good.

— Tim Durnin is an independent consultant for nonprofit organizations, schools and small business. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here to read his previous columns.

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