A mind is a terrible thing to waste. –slogan of the UNCF

Minds are wasted through lack of opportunity, as the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) so aptly recognized in its famous fund-raising and awareness slogan. Yet minds are also wasted through abuse, neglect, and the squandering of gifts.

As a teacher I am always concerned about the development of the mind and about nurturing a passion for knowledge and wisdom. Truly, a mind is a terrible thing to waste. The mind is a gift, a part of the body not to be taken for granted, intimately interwoven with the spirit/soul that makes us human.

So tell me, are you mindful of your mind? Do you attend to its care and feeding? How do you nourish your intellect, and how do you attend to its companions of soul and spirit?

I am concerned that we in the United States have become somewhat soft when it comes to mental calisthenics. We are a nation that expects entertainment, and that thinks and responds in increasingly short “sound bytes.”

No, I don’t dislike social media; in fact, I use it fairly extensively. Twitter, Facebook, and other similar formats offer much of value and definitely have their place. What concerns me is that lose something if we become completely absorbed in the “newest and latest.”

What happens when our political discourse is reduced to manageable sound bytes? What happens when we are so cued to the visual that the power of words eludes us? What’s the difference in a Facebook “friend” and a next door neighbor? Do cyber relationships possess the same kind of potential for intimacy and transparency?

Educator Neil Postman wrote a wonderful book in 1985 entitled Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. If you haven’t read it, I commend it to you and encourage you to lay hands on a copy. Postman’s premise is that “form excludes the content” and that we have lost something important in our cultural transition to the visual media. Think about it. People used to think nothing of listening to a two hour lecture or sermon. Now, in many contexts a preacher or speaker will lose much of his or her audience after 15 minutes.

The ability to think critically, to analyze and synthesize material, and to actively listen and to develop and sustain a rational argument seem to be endangered traits. Sure, we’re better at multi-tasking, but recent research postulates that this may not be desirable or more efficient.

Nothing, of course, stays the same, and our success depends upon our ability to adapt or change. That said, the mind needs to be exercised and not lulled into some kind or Orwellian stupor.

Give thanks for the gift of your mind–for your intellect, your ability to reason, to grasp concepts, make connections, remember, experience, and feel. Don’t take it for granted. As the familiar adage reminds us, “use it or lose it.” Read, think, work puzzles, play games, engage in lively conversation and friendly argument. Analyze the content of news, consider all sides of an issue, and think for yourself. Listen to music, read poetry, delve into sacred texts.

Yes, a mind is a terrible thing to waste. You have been given a precious gift. Use it and thank GOD for it.

For Further Reflection

Our modern minds are far more often “full” that “mindful” as we hurry through our busy days. Part of being mindful is the ability to put that 21st century multi-tasking part of your existence aside to focus, center, and simply be. Try to engage in meditation or contemplative prayer as a regular discipline. If you are not familiar with these practices you may find it difficult at first, but with practice it does become easier.

Try this simple exercise. Sit quietly and comfortably in a place with as few distractions as possible. Focus on your breathing and its gentle rhythms. Close your eyes and focus on a simple word or phrase. Why not try “gratitude,” “peace,” or “grace”? Empty your mind of all that crowds in. Acknowledge the thoughts that come but dismiss them for the moment. Aim for five minutes and gradually increase to 15 or more. You should find this time to be relaxing and refreshing.

(Photos by taufiq@eyecreation, ivanpw, and  libookperson used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!)

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