The Virtue of Interruptability
By Cory Brautigam
Don’t waste your life never allowing yourself to be interrupted. I continually find it true that it is better to be a person who is easily interrupted than a person who never allows interruptions to affect them. Maybe I’m just putting in a good word for spontaneity, but I think there is something more to being a person who is attentive to interruption than just being spontaneous.
Interruption is the breaking of continuity. Whether it is the continuity of a conversation, the continuity of a walk in the park, or the continuity of life, interruptions interfere. They come in all shapes and sizes. When you’re walking down the street and a homeless person tries to engage you in conversation: interruption. When you’re writing a blog post and your housemate strikes up a conversation: interruption.
We generally consider interruptions bad. The reason for this, I believe, is two-fold. First, interruptions get in the way of what we expect to happen or what we are planning. When this happens, we are rendered somewhat helpless. We like to be in control. We like to have a plan. We feel a sense of entitlement — this is our time, and we can do with it what we want. Interruption takes this from us. Second, we are more attuned to the negative interruptions. While we notice the baby crying when we’re trying to talk on the phone, we miss the flute-like call of the Oriole as we run through the park. “Please do not interrupt” has been overdone. Surely there is a time (in fact, many a time) not to interrupt, but because we are always being told that we should not, we learn to react as if we have been wronged when we are interrupted.
My brother once found a fly cooked into his french toast at a diner, this was an unwelcome interruption to his mealtime. Bad interruptions do exist, and they take away from whatever it is they are disrupting. Negative interruptions are quite common in this age – an age of technology and consumerism. Facebook and advertisements bombard us daily, but these “fly in the french toast” moments are not the only kind of interruptions. There are times when the welcoming of an interruption will allow us to better enjoy the very continuity being interrupted.
I am very aware of interruptions as I spend most of my time in a classroom with between 14 and 18 interrupters (aka students). In this setting we often discourage interruption because it takes away from the class. However, I must admit, I sometimes wonder if the classroom should be brimming with interruption. Indeed it would take a very skilled educator to cultivate a classroom environment where this could lead to healthy growth and formation, but reimagining a classroom with formative disturbances might prove a worthwhile task. It is very important for the learner to have the “virtue of interruptability.” Yes, it is important to seek, but it is also necessary to receive, and sometimes we deny ourselves this by disallowing interruption. We must be open to receiving beauty and truth – even when it comes in the unexpected moment or form.
I would argue that the greatest interruption of all time was the incarnation of Jesus Christ, who is the very foundation of the Christian faith. If you confess faith in this person, you are called to be attentive to interruptions, even to build your life upon the interruptions of Christ.
The usefulness of interruption is evident in various ways. It can humble us. It can remind us that we are not the only person with an agenda, and that other people and their cares are worth our attention. It can teach us about the world around us, about things we are not even aware are there for us to be taught about. It can guide us into new places, places we would not have imagined we would be. It is in being aware of the interruptions in our life that we are transformed – for this is often the mysterious way in which God moves. Of course, there are still interruptions that we should disregard, but if we pay attention we might be surprised by what goodness we find interrupting our lives.
Cory serves as a co-teacher at St. James School.