Simone Weil wrote that “attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” We have only so much attention to give, and when we turn that attention towards something we love, it opens new hope and sets us in a new direction. Those things that get the most attention in your life will shape where your life goes, and how you get there.
A generous community is one that sets its attention in a new a better direction. A community that sees what it really cares for is a community that knows where it is going. So ‘seeing’ is vital, and giving our attention to what we see is central. It’s not always so easy.
I can lose sight of this in my own home and become so busy with work, or fixing my home or car and all with the best intentions. I want put a big focus on doing certain things because I want the best life for my kids. Here’s the kicker. In getting or doing more for my kids, I discover that my attention can slowly turn away from them. In the end, my busy-ness, not my kids, becomes my focus. The very thing we hope to love the most, can be the very thing we give least attention to. It’s a tricky.
The same thing can happen in our city. We can be present here and pay our taxes, and we might fight for big causes, but in the process we might not see or pay attention to everything happening around us. I heard about one neighbour who was out yelling and screaming at a person parked briefly in front of their home. The parked car was helping another neighbour move. The yelling neighbour could only see the parked car, not the caring people behind the car. We lose our ability to be generous when we cannot ‘see’ the story unfolding right before us.
Our hope is to be so attentive that we know our place, and the people here, like “the back of our hand.” We become familiar with the details, the people, and the street names as though they were a part of us. But how well do we know Chestermere and the places we pass by every day?
As you might expect, there’s an app for that. There is a website called backofyourhand.com that tests how well you know your city and how well you pay attention to your little corner of the world. The website is like a little game that zooms in on Chestermere, then asks you to find certain places. Through the course of five questions it tests your ability to identify streets. I’ve not been able to get over 67% accuracy in several games. I realize that I do not know my neighbourhood as much as I expected. What is your score?
We might not know the names of our streets like the back of our hand, but we can be people who give attention to those along our street. Maybe we can learn the names of those families who live close by, or identify a few people who we want to encourage along. Your attention alone may be the rarest and purest form of generosity, and it’s yours to give.