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Action and Contemplation

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who are alive.” — Howard Thurman

Most people remain too busy to worry about such things as coming alive. They’re too busy getting things done. Bills to pay, a calendar full of meetings, chores to do, calls to make… it’s all too much, really, to be thinking about things like doing something more than this.

I wonder, who is more alive, a monk living in seclusion and contemplating the big questions or a business tycoon living their answer to a different set of questions? Are humans built for thinking or for action? Most people would point to the latter, for the modern world and our very resilience was built on action: overcoming enemies and disease and solving the riddles of science and technology to arrive right here at this extraordinary moment in time (!).

But who do we seek out for answers? It’s the poets and philosophers and deep thinkers who seclude themselves from the madness and settle down with the questions everyone else is too busy to answer. The wisdom of the ages was derived from contemplation. So can’t we make a solid case for the monk?

The world needs both, of course. Action and contemplation are each essential elements for the progress of humanity. Yet each can be a form of procrastination and avoidance. It’s fair to ask ourselves which path is right for us, but we can’t get so caught up in the question that we don’t go anywhere. The world is already full of people who never come alive. Ultimately, we must stop wrestling with questions and seek our own answer.

So is it ready, aim, fire or ready, fire, aim? The order isn’t always as important as the balance between the two. Running around in circles is just as pointless as sitting there thinking about what you’re going to do without ever actually taking a step. Action and contemplation lead us to vibrancy together. We can’t know what makes us alive without each.

As Thurman says, ask, but then do.

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