I can gather all the news I need from the weather report. Paul Simon
Those words, taken somewhat out of context from a beautiful song written in 1968 by Paul Simon—the “B” side to “Cecilia”, by the way, have been on my mind a lot lately. While Simon and Garfunkel’s version is both moving as well as beautiful, how about listening to a younger artist have a go at it, if it’s not one you’ve heard before…
It’s been on my mind for at least a month now but it really started to gel last week and the week before when I had the opportunity so share lunch, first with Glenn and then with George, friends who share my values but not necessarily all of my opinions. As such, time spent with them is not just pleasant but worthwhile; an opportunity to challenge existing beliefs and to tease out some new ones.
George has, for as long as I have known him, been a student of the late Stephen Covey and so, from time to time, the conversation drifts into areas covered by his works. This time we spent a few minutes talking about one of the ideas from his hugely popular “7 Habits” book, specifically about the concentric circle pair made up of the (inner) circle of influence and the (outer) circle of concern.
It goes like this: consider everything you consider important enough to warrant thinking about and maybe acting upon as being placed inside a region. The boundary of that region you can term the “circle of concern.”
Now take inventory of everything inside it. Lots of things—such as your fitness level, some happenings within local government, interpersonal relationships and such—are within your control and, thus, inside the “inner circle” or the circle of influence. But, as it also happens, many of the things that are important to you—things like, the current bank lending rate, the status of international relations between your country and its closest neighbors and maybe even the location of the next Super Bowl—but are beyond your control. These are in a grey area. They’re important, but you have no significant effect on how they play out.
The problem is that we often treat those things inside our circle of concern but outside our circle of control as if they were things we could affect.
And thus waste our time.
Then there’s the news.
Why do we bother so much? Two local examples:
- Yesterday, while driving home from work a feature on a local news station spent significant time discussing the new ferries that have been ordered for delivery in a few years to be used on several short runs between the island of Newfoundland and some small communities. They’re badly needed and the sooner the better. The majority of the work was awarded, via a public tendering process, to a Dutch company (I’m in Canada) when numerous “local” companies could have done it. There’s plenty of talk about why it should have been awarded locally regardless of the bottom line, and that, specifically, was what the story was about. After reflection on my chat with George, I turned the radio off and spent several previous moments alone for the drive in the quiet company of my own thoughts.
- Just this morning, as I have a little down-time awaiting turn-around from another process, I took the time to drop youngest off at school. On another local radio station I heard more on the ongoing local kerfuffle between local comedian Mark Critch and “famous personality” Pam Anderson. Again I turned the radio off and enjoyed the ride home in silence.
Don’t get this wrong: this is not to suggest that discussions around government expenditures should not be played out in public. They should. Absolutely. That sort of transparency keeps everyone’s good judgment solidly located between, on the one hand getting the best price/quality match and, on the other, being fair to all. Neither is this to say that the underlying issues between Critch and Anderson are trivial either—their fight is between A—animal rights, B—getting the facts straight and C—being respectful and showing good judgment. Obviously that’s significant stuff too.
It’s just that all of this is, for me, in that grey zone between my circle of influence and my circle of concern. Do I think it’s important? Yes. Is there anything to be gained, furthering the cause, by me listening, at length, to the back-and-forth on the news. Absolutely not!
Maybe we all should spend a little less time focused on the stuff that seems to dominate the news so much—the tragedies, the violence, the endless ego-battles that play out in public between our many types of public figures: public performers, athletes and politicians. Maybe, instead, we should focus on what’s inside our circle of influence and, hopefully even growing it a bit.
Once again, then, as Christmas draws near I’m grateful for family and friends.
Like George and Glenn.