Text vs. commentary

I look around my office at shelves packed with non-fiction books. Other rooms are packed with files full of articles. Magazines are everywhere.

Management, leadership, personal growth, spirituality, training. Years and years of purchases. I’m keenly aware of the complicated motivations behind buying all these books. Part of it was learning. But a deeper incentive has always been that the knowledge in the book will somehow give me at least some kind of clarity or calm or …… something……..

I’ve had this growing realization, though, that this quest – which has left me with thousands of books and articles – has obscured a more powerful and useful idea.

I already have what I need.

Take just one class of books that might be classed under business/spirituality/personal growth. In some magazine I read about “attention management”, and I loved that. We are what we pay attention to.  So I bought a bunch of books that got at what were some pretty basic ideas.

I noticed a curious mentality as I reached for the book and was reading it. I was comforted and inspired by these ideas relating to targeting and managing my attention towards the priority matters at hand. I loved learning about what neuroscientists are learning about the inefficiencies of multi-tasking.

But here’s the rub. These thoughts of mine as I read the many refractions about “attention is good” are like candy. They feel good and generate an aspiration and some inspiration. But the real point of these books and articles relates to work and living in the world, and comes with changed practices and behaviors.

But what if I really want to apply the concept of paying attention within some part of my life?  For unless I already am at my standard of “paying attention,” something has to change.

Unfortunately, I see that I am more likely to keep buying books and downloading articles about this topic than actually practicing it. It’s a lot easier.

The commentary/text” distinction

The text is very simple: “Paying better attention is really beneficial at many levels”. The commentary fills book after book and constitutes all the arguments, research, and general poetic expression about the basic text (pay attention!).

It comes down to this: At some level, I don’t need to read one more word about paying attention. I need to think through a couple practices and situations during my day where I would do something different. Am I thinking about a conversation with my wife? A particularly important meeting?

But do I do this? Not so much over the course of my life. It would mean a pattern break and that is hard. Buying and reading books,  magazines, and articles is something I’m programmed to do.

A couple qualifications: I speak here of one class of knowledge which is somewhat confined to human relations and interactions – whether with oneself or others. Clearly, there are kinds of more technical knowledge in which the text/commentary distinction is less useful. If I am a chemical engineer seeking a particular adhesive to bind two obscure materials, I need the information. The world is filled with knowledge that needs to be rationalized and transferred.

But we seem drawn to ridiculous redundancy. Endless and repetitive information about…everything.   Another example: Why do any of us need to read one more word about good health practices? If I want to be in better health, I need to exercise and eat less, with possibly a little bit of substitution within what I eat. But I don’t need to read one more sentence about health or diet as I’m not even making good on the powerful and simple guidance that is already deeply in my head.

« Back to blog

Powered by WordPress • Panorama theme by Themocracy