One of the more enlightened comments I’ve heard recently came from a young man who had just been immersed into an Old Money environment.
He’s currently a college student, and he just started dating a young lady. They reached the ‘meet the parents’ stage in their relationship and took a long weekend to go to her family home for the introductions.
All was awkwardly pleasant, as is usually the case when one meets potential in-laws for the first time. The young man was surprised by the size of the house and the property, as the young lady had not let on about her family’s history. He was also relieved that they made him feel at home.
Of course they sized him up and asked questions–all parents do that when their children’s happiness is involved. But there was a pronounced lack of pretense and condescension.
Upon their return to campus, the young man wisely did not discuss the family’s wealth with his friends. Instead, he mentioned how simple their life seemed to be. It had, as he put it, ‘zero distractions.’
The young lady’s mother and father both worked outside the home. They both enjoyed tennis. They both read voraciously. She mentored. He quietly sat on the board of a foundation. They traveled twice a year. And that was their life. Very straightforward.
Finally, after a winding conversation with me about the visit, what the young man was able to recognize and articulate was this: they had very few distractions. There was no television constantly on. There were no mobile phones constantly chiming at the dinner table. There was no drama.
Of course, if you have family, friends, a job, or any kind of life, a certain amount of turbulence is inevitable. But what this Old Money family had was simplicity. They had structure. These two things were probably made possible by having clearly defined priorities as well as boundaries regarding their work life, family life, and social life that reflected those priorities.
They intentionally avoided the ‘bad carnival’ of advertising, hyperbolic ‘news’ and a lot of what passes for ‘entertainment’ that is found online, on television, and in print. It is essential to be informed, of course, but too much cable television will make any one of us a crazy person. Vegetating on bad sitcoms and reality television will make us numb. And diving into the shallow end of ‘the latest trends’ and gossip will hollow out our sense of self and erode our sense of humanity.
So let’s avoid these distractions. Let’s articulate our priorities. Let’s sculpt our daily lives to reflect those priorities. Then we can deflect or ditch the distractions, distractions being defined as anything that doesn’t contribute and line up with our priorities or feed our goals.
We don’t have to live like monks. We don’t have to deprive ourselves. But we can, in 2022, keep it simple. When we’ve done our work and fulfilled our family obligations, we can sit and think. We can contemplate. We don’t have to check our email. We don’t have to engage on social media. We don’t have to turn on the television.
We can read a book. We can look out the window. We can go for a walk. We can engage with our imagination. We can take the time, as the great songwriter Johnny Mercer once said, ‘to get in touch with infinity.’ (He won 4 Academy Awards for his songs that were performed in movies–‘Moon River’ being one he wrote with Henry Mancini–and cofounded Capitol Records, so evidently taking some quiet time to ‘get in touch’ worked for him.)
We can try to compartmentalize aspects of our lives, fence off some quiet time, and in the process increase the quality of our existence. We’re not at our best when we’re being slugs. We’re also not at our best when we’re go go go all the time.
We’re at our best when we pause at regular intervals. When we appreciate rather than just consume. When we distinguish activity from productivity. When we divorce distraction from duty.
And having done these, let’s embrace the empty space, quiet moments, and the essential tranquility that have become so rare, and remain so sacred.