The Usefulness of Uselessness

Posted: June 6, 2020 in becoming
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Jenny Odell in her book How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy makes a case for re-examine our lives and considering seeing the “usefulness of uselessness. “

That rings a bell these days as we reflect on the last few months of social isolation. What have we learned? Perhaps we have learned how to do a nothing that is a something. Perhaps we have simply learned to tolerate being quiet. Perhaps we have been taught how to do less but love ourselves the same or more. Perhaps we have learned we have value even when we don’t appear in public.

Did we just lose two months? No, we lived those. And we connected with family. And we connected with others by texting and video chatting and sending pictures and anyway we could. Maybe we learned how to reach out with sincere concern for others more. Perhaps we learned not to wait for others to make contact.

What kind of life might we return to as society opens back up?

We might jump back into rushing around from place to place. Hopefully we don’t just renter the ratty-rat-a-tat-tat race. Let’s not fail to have learned that aloneness, repose, quiet, even fear have something to teach us. What have you learned in this time?

Perhaps we have learned that we are stronger than we thought. I learned I was both weaker and stronger. Perhaps we could see that society and work and school and even church and particularly social media drives us to keep trying to project public worth or success. But we have value because we exist. Gods love for us and our love for us isn’t based on starring. When we haven’t much to brag about on Facebook, we still have value.

Odell writes, “It is the invasive logic of commercial social media and its financial incentive to keep us in a profitable state of anxiety, envy, and distraction. It is furthermore the cult of individuality and personal branding that grow out of such platforms and affect the way we think about our offline selves and the places where we actually live.”

Do we have to appear on social media to feel alive, valuable, present? Nope. Do we have to post pictures that make us look happy to be happy? No, research shows us that online “likes” — the social validation and feedback loop — actually just makes us more anxious and insecure.

What if, as we re-enter being social or working again, we carry a new sense of a resilient self forward, a new appreciation for the family we live with, a fresh value for silence, a treasuring of the value of being alone, and the sweetness of a self-affirming interiority? What if we don’t go back to trying to prove we have value. We just do.

We are not first a brand or an image to keep up by showing up. We are not a personage appearing but a person always, not an it but a thou, not alone no matter how alone we were or are.

What have we learned by sometimes doing nothing that was something these last few months?

Perhaps, producing or not, being public or not, we have learned to hold ourselves dear, and to hold others dearest.

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