Right Action

Right Action is the forth precept along The Noble Eightfold Path. The reason The Noble Eightfold Path is, well, a path, is that each precept is meant to lead to and support the next. Just as our next step follows and is predicated on the one before it. So too, before one takes action, one must have, understanding, intention, and speech rightly aligned. Because your action will be supported, flow from and be informed by all of these — rightly aligned or not.

Because I have taken some time to dwell upon and attempt to be mindful of my understanding, it motivated me to not be so quick to react to someone else’s statement or post, to take a step back and attempt to see and read things for what they are, and to identify and confront my own negativity and desires. By doing so, this informed my intentions. In other words, I engage myself in an internal dialog around what would be accomplished. Would my intention be to understand or instruct? Would it be to learn the truth of what another believes or to advance my own? Would my intention be helpful or hurtful? Only when assuring as much as I could to myself that my intention was for truth seeking, understanding, and coming from a place of compassion, my speech will then be grounded in and driven from there. This, then, would lead to a proper action if one needed to be taken.

Right Action can also be applied to the very reason we might use social media in the first place — to participate in and build healthy community. This begins with who we choose to commune with and who we may not want to. There will be those people and entities we choose not to engage for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they promote a mostly negative view of the world. Perhaps they are unwilling to engage in friendly and respectful discourse. Perhaps it is as simple as not having something to say you are interested in. Or, more simply, you simply have too many you are currently following, you are at the limit of what you can meaningfully engage with, and know that adding a single person more would reduce your capacity for the rest. All of this is not only OK, but are considerations that, in a perfect world, others are making about you.

As for me, I know that the limit of those I can effectively follow on Twitter, or any other social media platform, is around 350. And even then, it is with some allowances and caveats. For example, I allow myself to be comfortable with missing things. When I open Twitter, I rarely scroll back very far to "catch up" on what I may have missed. I figure that if it is important it will likely come up again. For instance, if someone mentions it is their birthday, because many that I follow are friends of others I also follow, I will likely see someone wish them a happy birthday. I, then, see it is their birthday and will do the same. Important news or happenings are usually important to many. Therefore, there is no need to go back and see what you "missed" because it will likely be repeated again and, in most cases, far more than you care to even read.

How we organize Twitter is part of this too. I have recently reconfigured my main timeline to be exclusively people I know and/or care about. Everyone and everything (companies, organizations, etc.) else has been unfollowed and put into a list I have named "Interesting". I dip into this list about once a day and only if I have time. The one other list I have I call "High Volume" — a list of people who’s work I wish to follow or am otherwise interested in but post so frequently that they would drown out others in my main stream and it would be difficult to feel I was taking Right Action when it comes to them. I check this list as time allows as well. What this organizational strategy has resulted in is a timeline that is much easier to engage — a place I want to visit because my friends are there.

Right Action is about how and what we post about as well. Does what you have to say add value, help another, add to the conversation, start a useful dialog, float a good idea, worth someone’s time, or otherwise spread kindness? These are all things worth your action. Negativity, argumentative responses, fear, taking pleasure in the misfortune of others, time wasting, or that which is benign or useless should be rethought.

Action, as a concept, is a dynamic word. It implies activity. It is not something that is "set and forget". Quite the opposite, in fact. A path is only a path of one use it to move from one point to the next. Therefore, all of these steps should be actively applied in all of our dealings, including social media.

How we apply Right Action when it comes to any of our social media tools begins at the root of our use of them. This starts with understanding what role they play on our lives and our intentions when using them. Hopefully, some of the ways I’ve applied the path I choose to take will be helpful to ou as well.

Right Intention

The second precept of the Noble Eightfold Path is Right Intention. The path being that, now that you view the world as it is without being clouded by desire, you can mindfully choose how you wish to engage with it.

I really like how the instruction linked to above puts it:

Right Understanding shows us what life really is and what life’s problems are composed of, Right Intent urges us to decide what our heart wants. Right Intent must come from the heart and involves recognizing the equality of all life and compassion for all that life, beginning with yourself.

Because I have not embraced Right Understanding at all times when it comes to my online interactions, and also because my choices have not always been grounded in compassion for myself and others, my ability to approach social media with Right Intention has suffered. In fact, far too often, I have no understanding or intention at all…

It happens to me more times than I care to admit. I take my iPhone out of my pocket, fully intending to do something — look up an address or take down a note to capture a thought — and suddenly I find myself minutes later deep into checking my Twitter stream or Facebook feed. And the alarming thing is that I’m not even entirely sure how I got there. The choice to check social media was a semi-conscious one born of habit. It even takes me a few seconds to remember the purpose I took my iPhone out for. It’s more than a bit embarrassing.

A similar effect is a crucial strategy in retail design. Referred to as the Gruen transfer, it is the moment when people enter a shopping mall and then are surrounded by an intentionally confusing layout and overwhelmed by choice they lose track of their original intentions. Based on my observations and discussions with others, I often wonder if there is something similar in our digital spaces as well. I know it is true for me.

Too often, I open up Twitter and find my self swept up and out to a sea of negative statements, manufactured controversies, “news” that is designed to keep us in a state of fear and worry, and idly watching the misery of others like bloodsport. Too infrequently do I find things there meant to inspire, engage me in right understanding, increase my knowledge, or show me the joy and beauty still existing in this world. It is infrequently a place I go to have meaningful conversation and connections with friends or open the potential to expand that number.

This all stems from not having Right Intention with how I have chosen to build my stream. I focus on Twitter here because, unlike Facebook that largely hands over what I see to an inhuman algorithm (a consideration I shall make separately), what I choose to engage with on Twitter is still largely under my control — my intentions are what drive the stream. These intentions need to become aligned with my understanding and compassion for self.

So, after careful meditation on this, I think the solution is to realign how I use Twitter, who I follow, and how I use the lists feature, with this goal in mind. For instance, I will be unfollowing some people and feeds to move them into a more meaningful and intentional list where I can better focus on what they have to say and share. To say it another way, I want to make sure Twitter is a mall that is built to my liking, where I know where the things I’m looking for are located, and full of stores and people I’d enjoy running into. So that, when the transfer occurs and I find myself in a bit of a daze, it’s a place I don’t mind getting lost in for a little while.

Worn Wear

It was a few weeks ago, during an annual open street festival called Grand Old Days here in Saint Paul, MN, that I decided to pop into my local Patagonia store. I had heard they would have some lightly used and repaired items for sale in store for one day only to promote their Worn Wear initiative. Patagonia has long advocated that their clothing is not only built to last but should be repaired when wear or tear does occur, instead of replacement. They really do want you to use their stuff until it is all used up. If you can’t use it, they ask that you bring it back to them and they will repair and refurbish it to be passed on to someone that will. It is one of the many reasons I’m a fan of the company and their clothing and gear.

I perused the sale racks and, while there were plenty of good deals, I didn’t find anything I truly needed. So, I proceeded towards the exit.

On my way out one of the sales associates asked if I was able to find what I was looking for. I explained I was just browsing, had heard about the special Worn Wear sale event and thought I would check it out but didn’t find anything.

Then, he pointed to an area in the corner of the store that had a couple of people in it, a rack of miscellaneous items of clothing, and a table with a sewing machine and said, "See that guy in the blue shirt over there? That’s Andrew. He’s with our Worn Wear team. They’re doing something special today. If you go talk to him, he’ll let you pick an item in need of repair off the rack over there and show you how to repair it. What you pick and repair is yours to keep, free of charge."

I gave him my "Seriously?!?" look.

"For real! " he said. "Go talk to Andrew and let him know I sent you over."

So, to Andrew I went. Andrew repeated what they were up to and it was just as his partner at the door said. He was with a special Worn Wear team that was traveling to various stores around the country. They’re selecting people at random and showing them how easy it was to repair Patagonia clothing. In doing so, they were hoping to plant the seed and spread the word about repair and recycling of clothing and gear versus replacing them. Today was my lucky day, he said. He asked my size and pulled some things out from the rack. Nothing at Patagonia could be considered inexpensive and much of the stuff on this rack was in the $200 – $300 dollar range. Everything on there needed some repair, some minor and some a bit more major. Ultimately, I picked a Torrentshell Jacket — their best selling rain jacket. It had a small 2-3 inch rip just to the back of the left side. Andrew said it would be a pretty easy repair and, well, I didn’t have a real raincoat so it was something I was likely to use.

To repair the rip, Andrew suggested a strip of something called Tenacious Tape. It’s a super strong adhesive tape designed to fix rips, holes and gashes in outdoor gear. Therefore, it was perfect for repairing a rip in a rain coat. We eyeballed the length of tape needed against the rip and cut off a piece slightly longer than the rip. Andrew then had me cut the short ends of the tape oval — which reduces the chance of a corner getting pulled up and the tape coming off. Then, we laid the section of the jacket to be repaired nice and flat on the table. The trickiest part was trying to peel off the tape backing with no corners to manipulate while also doing all I could not to get the oils of my fingers on the adhesive, which would compromise the seal. But, eventually with Andrew’s help I got it, pressed it on, held it for a few minutes while it bonded, and, voila! One used, repaired, but still in fantastic shape rain jacket was all mine to keep.

Dare I say, jt has come in very handy in the past few weeks I’ve had it. We’ve had several large rain storms pass through and this jacket has been through the thick of them. It’s great. it packs up into it’s own pocket for easy storage and travel. It has two large side zip pockets (one with a carabiner clip-in loop) that will keep your hands and/or gear nice and dry. And pit zips to keep it from getting too clammy in warm weather. The hood even has a built in visor to help keep the rain off of the face.

The moral of this story though is how great of a company Patagonia is for putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to this stuff. For further inspiration read the many stories on their Worn Wear site of the people who own Patagonia gear that has lasted, broke down, been put back together, passed down for generations, or otherwise been used well beyond expectations. This experience has certainly made me an even bigger fan and made a big impact on me to keep clothing reuse and repair in the front of mind. Going forward, when I run into anything with a rip, stain, or blemish, I’ll look towards how to make it better.

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