Archive for March, 2011

Incapable of being indifferent

“Incapable of being indifferent.” This is such an evocative phrase. I borrowed it from Kay Redfield Jamison, (Exuberance, the Passion for Life, 2004). It is the title of a chapter in which she describes the temperaments of Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir, to whom we owe the legacy of our national park system in this country:  “…exuberant men. Infectiously enthusiastic, stupendously energetic, they left the country a wilder and more beautiful place because of their vision and action…Neither was capable of doing nothing when there was much to be done. Their joy in the wild was contagious to those around them” (p 20).

Drawing by Martha to accompany Incapable of Being IndifferentI have interpreted this phrase in two ways.  The first: being curious about and interested in many aspects of life – people, art, nature, history, science, cooking, golf, computers, engineering, wind and solar power, space travel.  A friend sent me a cartoon recently depicting a young man asking his college advisor if he could major in “the universe.”  I can relate! There is so much to be interested in!

The second interpretation relates to the way we engage with these many intriguing aspects of life.  Engaging with passion, integrity and dedication, being committed to a cause. I am lucky to work with amazing people whom I think of as “incapable of being indifferent.”  They have dedicated themselves to work in nonprofit organizations with a variety of missions — helping children who have been sexually abused, providing  quality child care services,  offering health care, car loans, legal services and housing to individuals and families who would otherwise not be able to afford these services.  And they commit themselves 150%.   I am lucky to know teachers whose commitment to their students, whether elementary school age, college age or adult, is truly inspiring.

This kind of curiosity and passion is life giving and uplifting.  I almost have the feeling that this passionate energy force can fuel a fire or propel a train. The endeavors described above are ones that touch me, in particular.  But I am also moved simply by someone’s energy and integrity even if I don’t share the passion for his/her endeavor. Not all of us achieve the results and/or fame of Roosevelt and Muir, but we can have impact in our own spheres – not to be underestimated. I suppose that this same energy can be used to negative ends…fervor that causes prejudice and bloodshed…but I prefer to focus on the positive energy that brings us together rather than drives us apart, energy that innovates and works towards the greater good.

And I prefer to cultivate appreciation for the joy and sparkle and blessings in daily life.   Stopping to notice. Making sure to connect. Savoring. Engaging.  One more thing though. There is challenge in being incapable of being indifferent. How do we do this with lightness and humor?  How do we use our energy wisely, with generosity and abundance without burning it out and having to close down, thereby diluting the cause? How do we establish priorities for that energy?  Just as not all of us achieve the results and/or fame of Roosevelt and Muir, not all of us have their boundless energy.  Some of us have to set limits, establish priorities and choose the parts of the universe to which we will devote our energies. We have to know our limits, Maybe that’s where the art of living comes in – learning to live, “incapable of being indifferent” and yet judiciously at the same time.


Martha Lask’s Blog

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