The Lost Art of Asking Ourselves
The other day, I was talking to a taxi driver about traffic jams and my recent choice to no longer own a car but instead ride my bike, take the subway or bus, and use those super-modern, portable, and high-tech pieces of equipment that are my feet. It was then that I realized that one of the biggest problems of the world today is that we’ve lost the art of asking ourselves.
Be it a small or big decision, unimportant or life changing, we’ve lost the habit of reflecting on why we are deciding things one way or another, or on whether our decision makes us happy, resonates with our values, and feeds our soul.
I blame it on the crazy speed of life, the constant feeling that we might be wasting our time, that we should be doing things faster. And I blame it on this comfortable thing called inertia, the feeling that we can just go-with-the-flow and not think about anything.
The driver asked me why I had decided to no longer own a car, and I realized the reason why: I had stopped for five minutes to ask myself whether I really needed a car. And I realized how much I hate to take care of a car: to fill the tank, keep it organized, have a valid driver’s license, take it for inspections, and look for a parking spot; the fact that I have to think before I leave home whether or not I’ll drink, think that I will not drink and then get to my destination and find that it's open bar and I have the damn car.
Not to mention the need to pay for taxes, insurance, a fire extinguisher that I will not be able to use if there’s ever a fire, and the fact that I have to take my car out every time my neighbor wants to take his car out because we share a parking space—all of these tiny boring things that surround this supposedly indispensable asset that is the car; a vehicle that I almost exclusively drove to work—a place that I would no longer need to go to because I had stopped working.
(I’ll not even talk about pollution because, I confess—shame on me—that in a first moment I didn’t even think about it, though this is something one could of course reflect on). After five minutes of thinking about it, I made a conscious decision about going car-free: it was in line with my beliefs, my values, my lifestyle, my needs, my budget, my reality. Great.
Then the driver dropped me at a TV studio where I recorded an interview about adoption, for a local program that would be airing. Talking to the show’s hosts about why I had decided to adopt, considering that I could easily have gotten pregnant instead, brought about again the lost art of asking ourselves about our reasons for the important decisions in our lives.
I had asked myself, four years ago: is it really indispensable for me to get pregnant? To give birth? To breastfeed? What is it to be a mom, for me? Is it just that? What is a bigger value for me? Once again, I made a conscious decision, in line with my beliefs, my values, my lifestyle, my needs, my budget, my reality. Amazing, huh?
Am I curious about getting pregnant? Look, I’m curious about millions of things in this life, and lots of them are things that I will certainly never do, like jump in a parachute, walk on the moon, or have sex with Colin Firth. Well, I’ll correct this to things I will “probably” never do because, oh well, I still have some hope about Colin Firth. But that’s it, just curiosity, and it doesn’t kill.
People who have—or want to have—a biological child may also ask themselves whether they’re curious about getting a phone call in the middle of the afternoon talking about a certain child, then going to an orphanage, taking that child in their arms, and feeling the indescribable feeling of knowing that the child IS your child.
I seriously believe that many people would be surprised by the answer if they just asked themselves: why not adopt? They’re just missing that five-minute reflection. And the more I think about it, the more I see that this applies to everything I’ve been changing in order to have a better life.
To let go of a bundle of clutter I have at home? The lost art of asking myself: do I really need to have this? To eat healthy food, to exercise, to take care of my body? The lost art of asking myself: is this what I want for my life, for my body? (especially when I’m at the counter with five packs of Ruffles).
Let’s recover the lost art of asking ourselves. Chances are, we will be pleasantly surprised with the results.
Paula Abreu is a Brazilian attorney who recently quit a 15-year career in law to write about quality-of-life, minimalism, health, and related issues on her blog My Better Life [in Portuguese]. She is a guest blogger for the Center for a New American Dream.