Earlier this month, I visited the doctor. At the end of the appointment, as I stood in line to pay, I started watching the payment desk. As each patient took his turn, I noticed a pattern. The woman at the desk reported the total, took the money or processed the credit card, scheduled the next appointment if needed, and instructed each person to "have a good day." In other words, a fairly typical experience, except for one unique element - she did all of this without ever making eye contact with the patient.
Each patient shuffled out of the office without enthusiasm. Two nights later, I watched a waitress struggle to take the orders of a large table while each person refused to address her directly.
Later, I spoke with a relative who was describing a recent phone conversation. She mentioned how difficult it is to talk when you can hear the other person typing in the background.
Is there anything we crave more than someone's undivided attention?
We have perfected the art of ignoring our fellow human beings. Those we don't ignore outright, we demean by our distraction. We act as if we are at the mercy of our tools and toys - that every cell phone call must be answered, every email read, every new post consumed and commented on, and every show or sporting event experienced in real-time.
I am uniquely qualified to write about this as a founding member of the Society for the Self-Absorbed (see my January post for proof). A few months ago, I actually turned in my Blackberry in exchange for a standard phone as a small step toward trying to focus on the person in front of me.
How many times has my wife started a conversation with me while I continued my reading or watching? How many times have I interrupted a conversation to answer a cell phone call? How many times have I failed to say hello to a stranger, or even make eye contact?
Counseling and therapy are more common and popular than ever before. I think it's the most glorious answer to this unmet need. "Let me get this straight. For the price of a co-pay, I can sit in a warm, relaxed environment while a caring, intelligent person gives me his or her undivided attention for 50-minutes? And this person is particularly skilled in being in passionately curious about others thoughts, opinions, and experiences?" I honestly don't know why this hasn't replaced lunch hours.
It reminds me of Jerry Seinfeld's story of when he first learned about Halloween as a child. "You're telling me there's a night when adults give away candy for free? And I can have all I want and all I have to do is wear that?"
A simple way to tell how desperate others are for your attention is what they are willing to do for it. Did your spouse just offer to watch your favorite show with you? Did your child just offer to help you with whatever it is you're doing? Did a friend or co-worker invite you to lunch, and offer to pay?
How much would your child give for your undivided attention?
How much would your spouse give for your undivided attention?
How much would your friend give for your undivided attention?
How much did God give for our undivided attention?