I had the privilege of spending time recently with some amazing activists– people who have been engaged in “the fight” — for affordable housing, for environmental protections, for educational reform — for years and for years. I marveled at their stories of the long journey, sometimes with little or no visible progress, from where they began to where they desire to go.
I find myself inspired by that level of engagement in others and want to learn from them. But, what it is that we mean by “engagement” after all? Let’s unpack this by looking at the first definition from the Oxford dictionary:
Engage = to “occupy, attract, or involve (someone’s interest or attention)”
If we are awake to the world around us, we have a choice to make. With what do we choose to engage? Most of us certainly have no shortage of options. As I write this, I could be attracted to any one of dozens of applications on any of the three electronic devices within my physical reach. My attention could be occupied by the music playing over the speakers or the other people moving in and out of this shared space. My interest could latch onto any of the three dozen tasks in my ‘Next Actions’ folder.
With the exception of mindfulness meditation and sleep, disengagement is really not an option. With a number of engagement options approaching infinity, the nature of our engagement can be fragmented, causing us to chase our tails and burrow down rabbit holes that may keep us from our ultimate goal. Therefore, the more fundamental question is:
What engagements are you sustaining today?
Beyond the momentary fix of your shrinking attention span, sustained engagement is what makes the difference. It is essential in relationships of all kinds. It is the type of long-range thinking that helps one save for retirement despite the bulls and bears of the market. Sustained engagement is a fundamental prerequisite of producing any value from a term paper to scientific discovery.
This is exactly what we can learn from my activist friends. Sustained engagement is vital in our community work as citizens, activists, dreamers, and leaders. Change requires that we get occupied by something and stick with it beyond the ever-shortening news cycle. So, I will ask that question in one final way: