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2. Live Intentionally

January 4, 2010

Another important step in simplifying our lives can be described in terms of intentionality. American culture is marked by its ability to advert our attention. Commercials (“advert-isements”), television shows, movies, magazines, music, the internet, and radio, together with many other forms of media, all posses the ability for perpetual distraction.

That’s not to say all media is bad in and of itself. Rather, what I’m pointing to is the need to curtail our consumption of media precisely by being more intentional about the role we allow it to play in our lives. When we aren’t intentional about the amount, content and forms of media we consume on a daily basis, it’s almost inevitable that we will get sucked into and consumed by the nihil that is American Pop Culture. Without intentionality in our lives, we become addicted to random stimulation and numb to the real issues in need of our attention.

So how does intentionality work?

Well, for starters, living intentionally presupposes that you can identify something that you are passionate about—ideally, something that matters (i.e., something outside the realm of Pop Culture and the world of sports).

Assuming you know your passion(s), commit to seeking out literature and media that bears some relationship to your passion(s). Books are usually the easiest to identify in this regard. is a good resource for finding books that address something you’re passionate about. Documentaries are another good place to start. In fact, if you don’t know what you’re passionate about, Hulu documentaries may be one the best places to start. Some of my favorites include Manufacturing Consent, The Corporation and Before the Music Dies. (If these don’t sell you on intentionality, well, I don’t know what to tell you.) And here’s the best part: they’re all completely free to stream.

The most important part of intentionality for me is selecting media or literature, be it a book, a movie, a public radio station (NPR), a song, an album—heck, even a blog works—for use as a conversation partner, not just based on entertainment value alone. That is, shy away from media that doesn’t elicit or create opportunities for some form of response. For example, if one book references a movie as meaningful, rent it and watch it. (I saw Hotel Rwanda just last month for this very reason.) If a documentary mentions a musician of relevance to your passion(s), find his or her music and listen to it—read lyrics, decipher song meanings, make connections. (Dylan and Neil Young are perhaps the two best examples of musicians that elicit responses from their listeners.) If NPR references an important article…well, you get the idea. If you’re living intentionally, you should be able to point to a common thread of meaning in your life. I’m using media and literature as an example here, but the thread, of course, should carry into all spheres of your life.

What I’m calling “intentionality” or “living intentionally” may not be the easiest thing at first. With time, however, it begins to free us (or me at least) from the world of meaninglessness, drawing us (me) deeper and deeper into issues that matter and further and further from those that don’t, which, interestingly enough, just may be the point of simplicity in the first place.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. January 6, 2010 8:55 am

    Intentionality is certainly difficult, but extremely freeing. Learning that there are certain things that move us to action and things that don’t. Difficult, and yet— worth it all.

    • January 6, 2010 11:26 pm

      I like how you describe it…”things that move us to action and things that don’t.” Just posted some songs that might help move us to action…

  2. Kay Owen permalink
    January 22, 2010 7:27 am

    Matt, I recently noticed on facebook that you had referenced…or invited me…to the Cynic’s Tub. And Jackie had mentioned you had a blog. Today’s the first day I clicked on the “Tub” (love the picture). I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the content and will continue to follow you. I work at living intentionally; it takes self-discipline and awareness. I like/value so much of what you’ve said in this article…particularly important, I think…”Without intentionality in our lives, we become addicted to random stimulation and numb to the real issues in need of our attention.”
    I follow Jon Katz, his Bedlam Farm journal…author, photographer. He contemplates peace, well-being in today’s world of stimulation, etc. Anyway…in a response to a recent posting of his on Facebook I read this title and will seek it out: Life is a Verb: 37 Days to Wake Up, Be Mindful and Live Intentionally. Sounds interesting. Aunt Kay


  1. 3. Relocate « the cynic's tub
  2. Simplicity: It’s Far From Simple « the cynic's tub

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