Maintaining Our Focus

While there are certain aspects of social media I love (i.e. the ability to stay in communication with loved ones around the world with whom I would otherwise not communicate), there are aspects of it that I dislike greatly.  Today I want to focus on one of those.

Social media has picked up on a quality that Americans have had for a long, long time (the inability to maintain our focus on a cause or issue) and made it much, much worse.  When I read Facebook, for instance, it seems like the primary issue of concern for Americans changes from week to week.  One week, most everyone is focusing on the need to address climate change due to the fires breaking out all over the West.  Another week, the issue is whether mail-in voting should be encouraged or discouraged.  Another week the issue of concern is whether people should feel good about the development of a vaccine for COVID-19.  Virtually every week or two, the issue of concern seems to change.

That was one reason why I was skeptical that our country would be able to maintain our focus on issues of systemic racism when the issue rose to the forefront following the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd last Spring.  At the time, many people professed that those three events changed their entire perspective on life.  Before, they never understood that racism was such a big problem.  Now, many said, they were “woke”.

They also added that things felt different this time – different, say, from the summer of 2016 when the country experienced the deaths of Philando Castiel and Alton Sterling at the hands of police.  And yet, just a few months later after the deaths of Arbery, Taylor, and Floyd – for so many Americans, the latest issues have displaced their earlier concern.  So many are no longer “woke”; they have gone back to sleep.

All of this has me wondering how can we break this long-standing pattern for Americans of jumping from one trendy issue to the next and begin to maintain our focus long enough to affect lasting change?

For me, the answer comes from the example of a woman named Shannon Watts.  At the time of the Sandy Hook school shootings in December of 2012, Shannon Watts was a stay-at-home mother of five who was a former communications executive.  The morning after the shooting, Shannon started a Facebook group that said all Americans must do more to reduce the incidents of gun violence.  To this point, there is nothing that unusual in Shannon’s story.

Unlike many of us, however, Shannon didn’t stop there by merely expressing an opinion on social media.  She focused the energy of thousands of people who responded to her message in order to form a group call Moms Demand Action.  Today, that group that was founded by a stay-at-home mother of five has grown into the strongest organization in our country that’s working to prevent gun violence.  They currently have over 6 million members – and local chapters in every state.  The achievements which the group has been able to win regarding legislative actions to address gun violence are far too numerous to mention here.  If you would like to see their accomplishments, click here: https://momsdemandaction.org/about/victories/

The story of Moms Demand Action is one that needs to be retold often.  For if we are ever going to get truly serious about addressing the myriad of problems facing our world including things like systemic racism, affordable housing, and global climate change; we will have to develop the ability to do what Shannon Watts did: focus and sustain our attention on a problem for a number of years.

And the beauty of it is that each of us can choose what issue we want to focus on.  Some may focus their attention on systemic racial injustice.  Others may focus on affordable housing.  Others may focus on expanded access to health care.  Still others might focus on global climate change.  The list of issues that need a passionate, focused advocate like Shannon is too great for me to list here.

My prayer is that each and every one of us might move beyond a “follow what’s trendy/trending” approach that social media tends to exacerbate – and instead develop one or two passions that we can pursue in the course of affecting true and lasting change.

Who will be the next Shannon Watts?

Who knows?  Maybe YOU!

About Pastor Craig

I'm a 53-year-old who lives in Los Angeles, CA with his black Labrador Retriever named Max. I'm an ordained clergy person in the United Church of Christ. My passions include spirituality, politics, and sports (Go Houston teams, go!). I use my blog to start conversations rather than merely spout my perspectives and opinions. I hope you'll post a question, comment, or observation for me to respond - so we can get the conversation started!
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2 Responses to Maintaining Our Focus

  1. Beverly Marshall Saling says:

    I think it’s also useful to remember what you and I were taught back in our Integrated Studies classes at PLU: that everything is connected. Just because we pick a focus area to put our energy toward doesn’t mean we can’t also address other issues through the lens of our focus area. For example, if we’re focusing on race we can be aware that the negative effects of climate change are disproportionately borne by BIPOC, and open our eyes to the growing Black and Indigenous food sovereignty movement and its ideas for mitigating climate change with regenerative agriculture. We can look into the ways mail-in voting affects vote access for different racial groups and what BIPOC-led groups like Fair Fight and Four Directions are doing to support equal access. We can research why BIPOC are disproportionately affected by COVID and what that means in terms of priorities for halting the spread of the disease. All the other “issues of the moment” can motivate us to look closer at how those issues intersect with our issue of focus and what actions we can take that will help both at the same time.

    • Pastor Craig says:

      That certainly can happen in a best-case scenario. As one of my friends says, if we are not careful we can get so enamored exploring new things that we lose sight of what needs to get accomplished. In other words, we can become a bit like Dug the Talking Dog (from the movie “Up”) where our focus is lost by the allure of something new (in Dug’s case squirrels) and not accomplish some of the critical work that needs to get done.

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