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viewpoint

The art of distraction

| Friday, September 1, 2017

I watched the man enter the coffee shop, approach the woman sitting alone at the table next to me and introduce himself.

A first date? This was sure to be more interesting than my book. I didn’t want to be intrusive, however, so I tried to focus on “Franny and Zooey.” But there are certain things you can’t ignore.

Man to woman: “You know, Darwin, the evolution guy.”

Woman to man: “Yeah, I know.”

Me to me: Dear God.

We’ve all been there. Watching a horrible first date might almost be as bad as being a part of the date itself. But as a bystander, you don’t necessarily have to sit back and watch it go up in flames.

Back when I saw my older brother Ken more than twice a year, he told me a story I have never forgotten, for it illustrates his best qualities.

When Ken was in high school, he was at a restaurant and noticed a date occurring at a nearby table. He was pretty positive it was a first date. The couple was just sitting there in silence looking uncomfortable, and Ken decided to give them something to talk about.

He stood up, walked right by their table, and tripped over nothing and fell to the ground right in front of them. Now the couple could share a laugh, Ken figured.

Distraction has a bad reputation: Don’t look at your phone when you’re doing homework, it’ll distract you from your studies. Take out your ear buds and listen to the sounds of nature. Turn off the television and have an actual conversation.

But sometimes we need to praise distraction.

At a RecSports training session last week, employees learned during a GreeNDot presentation that a distraction could protect someone from a potential sexual assault. We watched a viral Youtube video from five years ago that shows a man and woman arguing on a subway. When the altercation becomes physical, another man, holding a bag of chips, enters the frame and casually steps between the fighting couple. The man says nothing, and simply eats his chips. Immediately, the physical fighting stops, and the situation as a whole becomes more stable. Others step into the frame and speak with the two people involved in the fight.

When a distraction hinders you from completing a task or reaching a goal, it can be injurious. This is most often what we think of when we hear “distraction.”

But when a distraction allows your mind to transfer from a state of distress to a state of calm or happiness, it should be praised.

In the two cases above, my brother and chip man used distraction to positively affect others at the cost of their own well-being. Ken suffered public embarrassment and perhaps a rug burn. Chip man, by placing himself in the middle of the altercation, could have been physically harmed.

You likely practice positive distraction daily by telling funny stories to your friends at the dinner table or by forcing a friend who has been studying for hours on end to go on a walk around the lakes. In more ways than you might think, distraction can be a force for good, and it’s time we offer distraction some appreciation.

 

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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