The evening after the clocks go back an hour isn’t the longest day of the year. For me, it only feels like it is.
The light is super bright in the morning, lunchtime hits fast, and in the early afternoon, the shadows race in as if they’ve been held at bay all year and we’ve finally let them loose.
At least for us in the northern hemisphere, the season of scarves and blankets is approaching. Trees strip and temperatures drop; it’s a time of reflecting, simplifying, and putting to rest. In the midst of festivals and shared meals, it can also be a time for clarity too.
Maybe that’s why a story from Chip and Dan Heath’s book Made to Stick stood out to me today. Derek Sivers tells it like this:
Teacher had students write headline. Gave them all these facts: ‘Ken Peters, principal of Beverly Hills High School, announced that the entire faculty will travel to Sacramento next Thursday for a colloquium in new teaching methods. Among the speakers will be anthropologist Margaret Mead… etc’
Most students rearranged those facts into a basic AP one-sentence headline. Finally the teacher said, ‘The [lede] to the story is “THERE WILL BE NO SCHOOL ON THURSDAY!”‘
It’s not about regurgitating the facts, but about figuring out the point.” —Derek Sivers
I’ve shared elements of my winter reflection routine before. It’s come a little early this year as I’m in the middle of some vocational changes (more on what’s new soon).
It’s so easy to get distracted, though.
This year has been brim-full of facts and background details: new work and reports and talks and interviews and trips. But the facts are not the point. “Figuring out the point” is the point. And, as Sivers explains, I need to create room in my lifeworld and schedule to do that figuring. I need to fall back.
I wonder how much this is also true for intractable community questions—like how to transcend the cycle of “preventable tragedy” followed by “thoughts and prayers.” Or how to encourage religious communities to include and minister to people rather than expel or resist them.
There are reams of details in these questions, many of them philosophical, political, or theological. And parsing all those details can mean losing time or will to figure out the actual point.
At a conference in St. Louis last week, I suggested to some colleagues that we refocus on the cosmic questions: bigger questions that cover more scenarios than we can yet imagine so that the bigger answers we come up with are truly big enough for real people to live in with all our baggage, variances, and shifting needs.
Maybe, I said, the cosmic question isn’t who may marry, or serve in the military, or be ordained, or get a job and keep it, or be a church member, or—
Maybe the cosmic question is who counts as human and therefore gets to live in a world that supports their flourishing.
Maybe that’s the point, and the rest is detail.
And maybe it’ll be impossible to see that unless we zoom out from the most recent instance of a pattern, the latest tragedy, or the status quo’s newest target.
Whichever details seem pressing for you, pause with me over the next few weeks. I’d love to hear what becomes more clear for you if you do.