By Tom Ehrich
I just signed up for a time-tracking app called Toggl. Not because I was having trouble keeping track of work time and projects. I just thought it looked interesting.
What will happen next? That's the mystery. I might use it for a while and decide it's more trouble than it's worth.
But I could be surprised. I could discover that tracking the time I devote to specific tasks will change how I work -- or even more, change how I understand myself.
The quest, as always in self-understanding, is knowing what matters to me, where I place my values. An hour spent reading articles gleaned from Facebook is different from an hour spent writing an article.
The point isn't to root out time-wasting or to fulfill some external standard. The point is to see how I actually pour out my life. Given freedom, how do I use it?
For example, when I track my time, I will discover that I spend hardly any time working or worshiping in a congregation. I spend many hours each week dealing with faith issues -- writing, praying, reading -- but after two decades of total immersion in church life, I am disengaged. What does that mean?
Or take Facebook. For a time, I decided Facebook was a total "time suck." But then I noticed myself reading in-depth articles on police violence, just as I read earlier this year about violence against women. I don't inhabit either topic, but it is vital that I know about them. Facebook, in turn, has led me to news sites like Salon and Medium, as well as conservative outlets. I realize that I am hungry for insights into the America that actually is emerging -- not the stick figure stereotypes offered by politicians or the dreadful images offered by TV ads, but the voices of people themselves.
My point isn't to extol my preferences, but rather to understand what I value and what draws me deeper.
Will Toggl make me more efficient as a time manager or more effective as a writer? Probably not. But I hope to grow in my self-understanding.
If I could wish anything for our troubled nation in these fractious times, it would be greater self-understanding. Not in the sense of narcissistic self-obsession, but in knowing what lies beneath our fervent feelings.
Rather than just shout at each other, we should understand why we feel so strongly. It has been immensely helpful to inside black rage over police brutality. I think we need to know, too, why police officers behave the way they do. Rather than vilify each other, seek to comprehend.
We once did this work of self-discovery and other-discovery over the cracker barrel, in church, and at the back fence. Now we inhabit bubbles -- living with our own kind, working with people sharing our values, hanging out with the like-minded, mostly staying safe inside. The "other" is a stranger and threat.
Dealing with bubble-living is way beyond the capacity of a time-tracking app, of course. But the way to civility will be walked one step, one self-discovery, one other-engagement at a time.
By attaining more self-understanding, we lay ground for understanding the one who is shouting at us. Maybe then we can listen and not just shout back.