When I was in high school, I had an obsession with The Food Network. I looooved watching those cooking shows. Emeril was practically my best friend before he became famous. Every afternoon, I wasted hours and hours watching people sautéing, frying, mixing, and baking. Homework didn’t distract me; I barely managed to memorize Chemistry formulas with the TV on. My personal saga didn’t distract me, either. The Food Network was personally involved in every drama, phone conversation or get-together at my house. We were a great team, those chefs and I.
A few years ago I got rid of the TV, and have freed up hours and hours to be more productive. It was only recently that a certain thought started brewing in my head: why do we like to watch TV and movies so much? What exactly is it that attracts our attention? The answer had to be more than just “entertainment”. If it’s entertainment we’re looking for, which we are, then the real question should be, “Why am I looking for entertainment?”
What do I mean by this? Let’s examine the average person’s weekly routine. Weekdays are usually filled with work and school- but what happens during the afternoons and evenings? Growing up, I remember the TV being on from the moment I got home to the moment I fell asleep, and usually even after that. And it wasn’t just the TV in my bedroom. It was all the TV’s in every room- the TV room, the kitchen, my parents’ bedroom, and my brother’s room. We had Pat Sajak and Vannah White over our house for dinner every night. Alex Trebek just made it to dessert. Weekends are spent maybe catching a movie, going out for dinner, and wasting an entire day on Stupid Sports Sunday Spectacular. I remember feeling like a total loser if I didn’t go out at least once during the weekends. G-d forbid I didn’t have a date Saturday night; it was grounds for a “poor me” party, in which the rest of the night would be spent sulking and watching one 80’s movie after another.
Now it’s worse than ever. Society is telling us that we need to go out, look glamorous, throw away $4 on a cup of coffee, and live like the actors on TV. Everywhere we turn, there are distractions. Even billboards are distractions. These days you can watch anything you want on your iPhone or iPad, no matter where you are. Most of us don’t know what it’s like to go a day without being plugged in to something.
There is some serious irony in this life of distractions. Think of the last time you actually spent time with a loved one- a spouse, parent, or child. (Friends are excluded from this category because it is a common phenomenon that friends always have something to talk about.) Let’s say you’re at a restaurant for dinner. How much time is spent having real conversation? Or do you do what most people do- look at the people around you as you’re sitting in silence, then start talking when the food arrives? The conversation at that point is usually about how good/ bad the food/service is… Do you remember the last time you had a blackout? What did you do, besides sit in the dark? Did you have anything real to talk about? Or were you just going crazy for the moment that you could reconnect with the outside world?
The issue is that our western lifestyle keeps us in a fantasy-type existence through different means: shopping, restaurants, and media (TV, internet, FACEBOOK, movies). Aside from working and going to school, how much of your time is spent doing anything other than the four things I just mentioned?
I now realize that the main reason I was so dependent on having the TV on every afternoon is because I was afraid of my reality. I was afraid to have to face the fact that I didn’t have many friends, I was lonely, and I didn’t get along well with certain family members. It’s not exactly an uplifting thought. The constant blaring of the TV actually numbed all those empty and depressing feelings, and refocused my attention on that delicious 3 Layer Chocolate Cake that Paula Deen was cookin’ up, y’all!
In short, I didn’t have to face my emptiness.
If you take away your distractions, what’s left?
Just you. And your family. And maybe a pet or two. What to do with such a reality, where mass entertainment can’t fill the void? This is actually the best place to be in, because now you have a chance to learn more about yourself and your loved ones. Turning off the TV gives you the chance to develop your obvious and hidden talents. Do you like to sing or play an instrument? I play the piano. If only I had back all those hours to practice that I wasted in nonsense; I would be a virtuoso. Instead, I traded in those hours of developing the precious gift G-d gave me for hours of mind-numbing programming.
Unplugging also gives you the chance to develop your personal relationships. Don’t fall into the phenomenon of the “empty nest”, when the kids all get married and move out, and all of a sudden you’re forced to spend time with the stranger that you’ve been married to for the past 30+ years. That is, if you’ve made it that far together. Can you imagine all the time you can spend getting to know your spouse if you just turn off the TV? You can finally have the chance to develop a level of intimacy that is not only a beautiful addition to a marriage, but a majorly overlooked necessity. Go for walks together. Hold hands and talk over a cup of coffee. Work out your differences. I think that many times couples get divorced because they think they have nothing in common anymore. If they would have taken the time to learn about each other on a continual basis, they would have grown together so beautifully. You also have the chance to develop a real relationship with your children. Enjoy time with them at the park, playing sports, or reading a book together. Every child needs quality time with his parents; don’t let the TV take it away from you.
Most importantly, you now have the chance to develop a relationship with G-d. When no one else is around, you’re not alone. G-d is right there with you, just waiting for you to speak with Him. Imagine this- if you could have an awesome therapist available for you whenever you wanted to talk, wouldn’t that take so much stress out of your day? Wouldn’t it help you get to the root of your personal issues so much faster? Nu (as they say in Hebrew), what are you waiting for? G-d is ready, at your service, to be your on-call therapist at any time! Don’t you deserve to be happy? Don’t you deserve to have inner peace and a sense of tranquility no matter how stressful life gets?
Distractions aren’t going to fix our problems. But facing them head-on will!