Being Present is Hard Work
Just Don’t be Boring
I know this from teaching college students. Some students are right there with you (I love these people!). I see others fade into and out of our discussion while some simply park their carcass in a chair as their mind plays on a sandy beach in South America. I don’t blame them. Helping any audience be present is a challenge for every communicator. It’s a challenge I try to take seriously in teaching, writing and face-to-face conversation. A creative director I worked with would always say, “just don’t be boring.” He was right. No speaker or conversation partner has a right to squander someone else’s attention.
I know being present is hard from my own experience as well. Paying attention to someone requires a lot of energy. Maybe introversion/extroversion has something to do with it. Maybe not: extroverts have an especially hard time listening because they really, really want to interrupt and say their spiel.
Over the weekend I talked with a physician who works really hard at being present with each patient. Her day is spent in 15-30 minutes intervals of intense listening followed by repeating what she heard, followed by diagnosis mixed with more listening and more response. It’s easy to see why it takes all her energy.
Rereading Robert Sokolwski’s Introduction to Phenomenology, I ran across this quote:
All experience involves a blend of presence and absence, and in some cases drawing our attention to this mix can be philosophically illuminating. (18)
The physician worked hard at being present with her patients precisely because the words uttered by patient after patient were only one piece of the puzzle. She was also analyzing what wasn’t being said, what the patient was trying not to say, as well as analyzing physical appearance and the way the patient holds him or herself. Same stuff we all pay attention to, but the physician needs to draw concrete conclusions or at least educated guesses that could lead to a course of action.
Being present is a gift we give to each other.