In January, I joined the Bento Society as a weekly practice in long-term thinking.
The society is born of Yancey Strickler’s book This Could Be Our Future. Bento stands for Beyond Near Term Orientation, and a play on the neatly separated Japanese lunch tray.
In it’s simplest form, the Bento is a square divided into quadrants; with the x-axis being time (now and the future) and the y-axis our self-interest (me and us).
One powerful application is to use the quadrants to tap into important parts of your identity. Write a question like “what should I do today?”, and envision how each quadrant would answer.
“Now me” (your short-term self-interest) might want to binge watch Netflix, or knock out a work project that’s been on your mind.
“Now us” (your short-term group-minded self) might want to talk with a family member going through a hard time, or reconnect with an old friend.
“Future me” (your long-term self interest) might want to work on a passion project, or practice a new skill.
“Future us” (your long-term group-minded self) might want to apply a new skill in a way that benefits your community.
All too often, I find that the “now me” gets to drive my life. Thinking through the Bento quadrants helps me balance near- and long-term interests; and balance self-care and service to others. It’s not about judging certain quadrants as good/bad or right/wrong; simply that no one quadrant is the complete picture of what matters.
After doing several Bentos, the exercise highlights the values and guiding principles that I want to more thoroughly practice, like curiosity and compassion.
Participating in the Bento Society has been helpful way to ground and orient my values and daily habits.