After reading one of my weekly musings, one of our clients sent me the book, Dedicated, written by her son, Pete Davis. Pete co-founded the Democracy Policy Network and also co-founded Getaway, a company that provides simple, unplugged escapes to tiny cabins outside of major cities. I read his book this week and was struck by a number of inspiring and intriguing thoughts that I want to share.
Pete starts the book by defining Infinite Browsing Mode. As a society and likely globally, our culture is moving toward the rule of keeping your options open. Many do not make commitments because of the fear of making the wrong choice among the many choices available. He analogizes that is like entering a long hallway where there are hundreds of rooms where we can infinitely browse. We feel that if we look at enough of the options, we can find the one that is perfect. But there is a downside to infinite browsing mode. “Nobody wants to be stuck behind a locked door – but nobody wants to live in a hallway, either. It’s great to have options when you lose interest in something, but I’ve learned that the more times I jump from option to option, the less satisfied I am with any given option.” Pete notes that as he has grown older, he is more inspired by people who have committed to something and stuck with it. He refers to two cultures in modern society; the culture of open options and the counterculture of commitment. Most of us want to belong to a community that has the values we share and accomplishes things to make the world a better place. One of the challenges is the culture of open options pushes us away from commitment.
Pete believes that this battle between the two cultures is important because we are facing many global challenges. “There are so many big problems to solve, systems to reform, institutions to rebuild, and breaches to repair in the world today. And I believe the biggest barrier to tackling any of these challenges is that there are simply not enough people dedicated to tackling them. . . . Commitment is the first step toward changing the world – and our fears of commitment are standing in the way of jumping in.” As Pete notes, changes happen slowly not quickly so commitment is a necessary ingredient to help those effecting the change to get through the periods of frustration, boredom, distraction and exhaustion. When we think of the really profound societal changes, they don’t happen overnight. As much as we think of Martin Luther King Jr.’s incredible speeches and sermons, Pete notes that “We often forget that King first came to Montgomery because he committed to being the pastor at a local Baptist church. The whole beginning of his memoir is about the not-so-thrilling work of forming church committees: a religious education committee, a social service committee, a scholarship fundraising committee and a cultural committee.” There were a lot of mundane and frustrating activities between 1954 when he arrived in Montgomery and his celebrated I’ve Got a Dream Speech in August 1963. If Martin Luther King Jr. was living the culture of infinite browsing mode, would we have made the progress that occurred in the later 60s?
Pete sees the beauty in having options and the benefits of infinite browsing mode but he points out the disadvantages if it is taken too far. He worries that we need to shift the balance a little (or a lot) to meet the challenges we face. While all of the options we have may free us from involuntary commitments, Pete wants us to think more about voluntary commitments and the joy and fulfillment that come from having a long term commitment to something or many things. At the end of the book, Pete tells the story of a woman who with the help of her neighbors transforms a vacant lot in the Bronx from a garbage dump to a community garden. “There are people all around the world who have made the choice Karen did – to respond to an invitation to dedicate themselves to transforming some vacant lot of life into a lush garden . . . So what are we waiting for? Come grab a trowel.”
This week’s selection is:
Dedicated by Pete Davis
In Dedicated, Pete Davis examines the era of infinite browsing and keeping options open as well as the counterculture of committers who have made it to the other side. He shares what we can learn from the “long-haul heroes” who courageously commit themselves to particular places, professions, and causes—who relinquish the false freedom of an open future in exchange for the deep fulfillment of true dedication. Weaving together examples from history, personal stories, and applied psychology, Davis’s candid and humble words offer a meaningful answer to our modern frustrations and a practical path to joy.