I Believe in Paying Attention

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My mother was a great believer in “paying attention.” She didn’t need to say, “be careful crossing the street” or “watch out for strangers,” or “drive carefully.” PAY ATTENTION! covered all situations. The way she said it got your attention, and I still hear her voice in my head, 15 years after she’s gone.

Paying attention covers a lot more than just safety issues. It compels me to attend township meetings, school board sessions, and political events. When other people are making decisions that affect my life, I need to know about them -- first hand. Of course, these meetings and events get covered in the news, but being there in person gives me a chance to react, to speak out, to express my opinion, and perhaps to influence a decision.

It drives me crazy to hear people say, “what do you mean they’re building a factory across the street from my house, why didn’t they tell me?” or “they’re closing that wonderful school, who decided that?” or “they’re building that highway through my town, who says we need it?” They obviously haven’t been paying attention, because none of this happens without discussions by planning commissions, school boards, town councils, the Pennsylvania legislature, and the US congress. Most of these discussions are reported in the newspaper and on the radio, and television. It can be a lot to plow through, but it’s worth it in the end.

My mother, Kit Fernald, got so involved in paying attention that she ended up being a town council member then mayor of her community in her late sixties to early seventies. At the age of 80 she spearheaded a petition drive to stop the import of Venezuelan orimulsion as a fuel for Florida Power and Light. She presented 10,000 signatures to the governor of Florida, who made the decision to stop the operation.

There are so many ways to get involved and make a difference in the world we live in. Some involve making financial contributions. Others involve writing to government representatives. And some involve actually taking action by attending meetings or rallies. It all depends on the individual to see what is effective. I’ve worked on environmental problems and family planning issues. I’ve worked to save schools, improve communities, and support human service agencies. All these activities left me satisfied and with the sense that I was doing the right thing.

So from the important role of paying attention to children and others in our lives to paying attention to issues that affect everyone, we all need to do our part. That’s why I believe in paying attention.


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