For the last few years, I have kept a box on my desk at my various places of residence. This box contains around 1000 3×5 notecards (predominately Office Depot Heavyweight notecards – thinner notecards feel like writing on toilet paper), and on these notecards are things that I have felt were important enough to write down and reference later (almost exclusively in pencil). This is a system I have stolen from a couple of sources because I felt disorganized and I was struggling to retain things I read or heard.
The system works like this:
- When reading a book, if I find a passage interesting, useful, or it just simply catches my attention by how well-written it is, I highlight or underline it, then dog ear the page (I have book nerd friends who are horrified by this). This practice has expanded to include things from movies, TV shows, podcasts, song lyrics, sermons, or just something I come across in life or think about that I feel is worth remembering.
- When I finish a book, I’ll let it sit for a few days or a week, then go back through the marked pages. If I still feel its worth remembering, I write it down on a notecard (longer passages I type on the computer, print, then tape to a notecard).
- I will then file these cards away under various categories in my box of cards.
The box of notecards has been labled “The Wisdom” (I little pretentious, I know).
The whole system has helped me not only retain the things I take in, but also see connections between various topics and ideas along with framing them under broader contexts. For example, a quote from G.K. Chesterton that I read in his book Orthodoxy perfectly comments on a current trent that I’m seeing in the world from a Christian apologetics viewpoint. This has helped me engage content on much deeper levels in the last few years.
I was meeting a guy from church over coffee recently and he said, “Whatever content is being poured into you, you’re gonna pour into others – so you gotta make sure you’re taking in good and edifying content.” Our mind and heart are connected in dramatic ways, and what you put into one will influence what you desire to put into the other. This system has strengthened my connections with my Christian worldview in dramatic ways. A book I read about the epidemic of depression in the West suddenly takes on new meaning because beneath the psychology I see the spiritual hunger that so many are failing to fulfill through their own will. So often I see things by the light of something else, or the physical act of writing and searching and reading often reveals things I needed to be reminded of at the moment. To quote Shelby Foote (yes, this is on a notecard), “I can’t begin to tell you the things I discovered while I was looking for something else.”
When I started this process, I quickly realized how poorly I had absorbed content in the past, or just simply taken in garbage content because I was bored. Life is too short. Too many people miss out on opportunities to better themselves or others because they seek entertainment before edification. All content (with a few exceptions), no matter how basic or superfluous, has a message within it for the world, and those lessons can shape lives. I want to be shaped into a man that makes an impact on lives. As Josemaria Escriva once said, “How I wish your bearing and conversation were such that, on seeing or hearing you, people would say: ‘This man reads the life of Jesus Christ.”
Maybe years from now my children will come across my boxes of silly notecards full of random quotes and thoughts and maybe it will give them a snapshot of the kind of husband, father, and man that I strived to be on this planet. I want to leave an impact on this world, and maybe boxes of notecards is one of the ways to help make that more of a possibility.
Now I need to buy more notecards.