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What Would Lloyd Dobbler Do?

Thursday, 2 January 2014

For the last few years, I’ve mulled over an idea I've titled “The Four Acts of Humanity." The name totally sucks, and the idea is the stuff of bad self-help motivational novels, but I can't shake it. The four acts all start with the same letter, which is crucial for best-sellers: Connect, Create, Construct and Consume.

(I thought of calling it "The Four Ways of C'ing," but that's even worse.)

I wanted to claim that all of modern human existence breaks down into those four categories. Each category was a little bit more permissive than the word might suggest. Maintenance like mowing the lawn and doing laundry would be part of Constructing. Anything that might help improve an ability or a level of competence would count as Creating, even tennis lessons. A single event or activity could easily count under more than one category.

Last week, as I sat playing Skylanders with my young son, my mind wandered back to this Four Acts idea. Throughout the day and week, I began to assess my Christmas vacation by measuring my time spent engaged in The Four Acts of Humanity.

I connected. With family, with friends, in a variety of settings, mostly with vigor, engagement and joy. Grade: B+

I constructed. Did laundry and ironed a lot of shirts, installed a new lock on our door, cleared gutters, repaired a side view mirror on the car, and so forth. It was a productive holiday for constructing even if my abilities in this area are generally unimpressive. Grade: B

I did not create much. I made a mix CD for a few friends as part of their Christmas presents. I performed in a goofy dance at work. I spent a smidgen of time preparing for my drama performance later this month. I put together a “Year In Review” photo book for the family. I wrote a few blog posts. But it often seemed like these were done in stolen moments and late nights, and it was regularly difficult to give this work my full attention or much effort. Grade: C

I consumed like a mofo. I ate many multiples of what I needed to sustain life. I drank an unhealthy amount of sodas and alcoholic beverages. I played Candy Crush into the high 90s. I watched House of Cards and another TV series and six or seven movies alone, and another 10 or so hours of shows and movies with my daughters. I watched a nauseating amount of sporting events. I read two books, and I had music playing almost every minute the TV wasn’t getting my attention. Grade: A+

Consuming is, to be sure, an essential part of our lives. More importantly, at reasonable levels, it’s perfectly healthy and adds to the enjoyment of life. But most of us frequently sacrifice an unhealthy level of our opportunities to connect, create or construct in order to consume, and we tend to consume well past the point of reasonable satiation.

One of the saddest moments in Presidential proclamations in my adult life was when George W. Bush, as we reeled in shock from the events of September 11, reminded us that our true purpose in society was to consume. Our gluttony, he suggests, is what makes America great. Perhaps that's true. Which makes his words twice as depressing.

I’m a consumer. I consume. That’s what I do. That’s what I’m good at. When authors and artists suggest that humans are a large-scale virus, they are not entirely wrong.

While I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, my goal for the coming year is a simple and modest one: to consume a little less and create a little more. It's not about reducing footprints or creating legacies. It's about being more judicious in how I invest my most valued commodity of time.

When my consumption helps with the other Three Acts -- connecting, constructing, creating -- then all the better. When it is mere consumption for consumption’s sake, the feeding of the lazy eye or bored ear or not-yet-growling stomach, the more I can actively seek to redirect that urge to devour into more positive actions, the better off my 2014 will be.

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