"There is one thing we can do, and the happiest people are those who do it to the limit of their ability. We can be completely present. We can be all here. We can... give all our attention to the opportunity before us." Mark van Doren
Many years ago, I had started my own law practice and had a demanding church position. With five young children, my time at home was at a premium. Often, when I was home, my mind became preoccupied with a problematic case or client. My wife said to me, “I can deal with you being gone for work or service, but it’s really difficult when you’re here but your mind is miles away. When you’re here, I need you to be here.” I have never forgotten that great lesson.
One commonality seems to stand out among great people: their intense engagement in the present. Some seem to have been born that way; others had to develop that encompassing attention to the “now.” With this drive to maximize the present moment, almost nothing can deter a determined individual; without it, almost nothing can move him along.
Like most, I have a reasonably busy schedule that pulls me in different directions, physically and mentally. The key is to be in the right place as much as possible AND wherever I am, to commit my ears, my attention, and my brain to the task at hand.
Imagine the disastrous results of a distracted air traffic controller or heavy-duty crane operator who allowed life’s outside stresses to draw his or her mind away from the task at hand. But although human life may not rest on whether we pay attention to the speaker we’re listening to, all us should concentrate on what we should be doing that moment. So many people divide their attention in meetings, while driving, in church, and even while supposedly listening to someone in a personal conversation. They believe that they can “multi-task.” I used to believe that, but I don’t anymore. People are getting killed by texting drivers who thought they could multi-task. I hate meetings with multi-taskers: they’re hard to engage, hard to get decisions from, and hard to build consensus because of distraction from phones and iPads.
Listening to people is one of the most important things in life. There is no multi-tasking with listening. Either you’re paying complete attention to the person you’re listening to, or you’re not. Your sympathetic look, your encouraging nods, and your affirming sounds do not compensate for not really listening. None of these gestures help unless you’re truly listening.
I read of this experience in a great book by a local author, a counselor: a young woman told him, “You’re not listening to me anymore.” He began to object: His eyes were open. His head hadn’t changed position. Everything was the same as a few moments before. But as he thought about it, he realized his mind had wandered to the place he was going after work. He asked, “How did you know that?” “Because the windows in your eyes closed,” she said. People know when we’re listening.
Listen to what’s going on in your life.