“Public life is a situation of power and energy; he trespasses against his duty who sleeps upon his watch, as well as he that goes over to the enemy” (Edmund Burke).
IF, AS BURKE SAYS, PUBLIC SERVANTS NEED TO BE ALERT, SO DO THE REST OF US. Leaders may have a special responsibility in this regard, but life being what it is, none of us can afford to be caught sleeping while we’re supposed to be “on watch.” We need to be alert!
The word “alert” is interesting. It is one of several synonyms that denote mindfulness or heedfulness: aware, cognizant, conscious, sensible, awake, watchful, vigilant. In this list, the distinctive meaning of “alert” is that it “stresses quickness to recognize and respond” (American Heritage Dictionary). Think about that for a moment. Isn’t it true that we often need to recognize certain things and then respond to them? And isn’t it good to be able, when the need arises, to respond quickly? That’s what alertness is: quickness to recognize and respond.
This life is full of good things we need to recognize and respond to (see yesterday’s reading on “enjoyment”), but it is also full of dangers we need to be alert to. Dangers and threats should not become the main focus of our thinking, but it is a fact that we are threatened from time to time. In our daily lives, it sometimes seems as if we’re walking across a minefield. A failure to be alert can be disastrous, not only for ourselves but for our friends and loved ones.
“Drowsiness” is a problem for most of us. Even if you aren’t plagued with physical drowsiness, I expect you’re like me in that you are often mentally, emotionally, and spiritually drowsy. Important issues call for our wide-awake attention, but we retreat into a passive sleepiness that does nothing but make matters worse. At times we need someone who will shake us and shout, “Wake up!”
Whether it’s the good things or the bad that are under consideration, we ought to pay attention to what is happening around us. Not a day goes by that does not contain great events and exciting possibilities. Even the problems that often confront us represent opportunities for growth. But we won’t profit from any of these things or make a worthy contribution to our world if we’re not alert — which means that we’re characterized by quickness to recognize and respond.
“Only that day dawns to which we are awake” (Henry David Thoreau).