Oct 192017 4 Responses

Why No One Pays Attention to You

There is a gift which in years past wasn’t considered an act of charity. It was expected and commonplace. But in today’s fast-moving culture, this one thing is so rare while also being so desired that when we give it to others, it’s the greatest gift we can give.

The gift is attention.

Consider: how many times this week have you had someone’s undivided attention? For many people, the answer is never. The average person goes an entire day without ever having the full attention of another human being.

The Day of Distraction

We live in a continual state of distraction. As I write, this article does not have my full attention. The ballgame on the TV draws my eyes every time a big play might occur. Multiple conversations are taking place within the house with an occasional request for me to referee a circumstance. Even the computer upon which I write is full of distractions–occasionally email pops up on the screen, there is a continual pull toward the internet to update scores or check breaking news, and there is always the temptation to surf the net just to avoid what needs to be done.  Of course, the ultimate interruptor–my phone–is nearby. With one press of the home screen, I can see several text messages unread and notifications from multiple social media platforms.

Most of us never get the undivided attention of another because most of us never give undivided attention to anyone or anything.

Will there be a single time today where you will be completely off-limits to everyone? Will someone or something get your full focus for an extended period of time? Probably not. And at what cost does our divided attention bring?

The Need for Attention

“Daddy, watch me,” is a common phrase heard around my house. My daughter needs me to watch her dance. My son needs me to watch him try a new trick shot or see a new invention.

Interestingly, we look at small children and their need to be seen by their parents as a phase. We think it’s something every child experiences and then grows out of. It’s not…and we don’t. The truth is that we all need to be seen.

Attention is related to the word attend. It means to be present with something. It is a basic human need to experience the full presence of another human being. We were created to be seen by another. It’s in the seeing that we experience a sense of worth and value. It’s no accident that when our first parent’s sinned, they tried not to be seen by one another (hence the fig leaves) or by God (“I hid myself,” Adam said to God). While sin changed our desire to be seen at all times, it didn’t change our basic need to be seen. When we are not attended by other people, we suffer. When we fail to attend to other people, we suffer as well.

The Intersection of Attention and Distraction

The intersection of our need for attention with the day of distraction in which we live leads to an interesting time. What we need the most, we get (and give) the least. So much of human behavior can be explained by this intersection.

Most workaholics don’t work for work’s sake. They are trying to be seen.

Most perfectionists don’t truly care about perfection. They believe perfection might make them worth people’s attention.

Most comedians aren’t that happy. They’ve simply learned that making other people laugh draws the attention of others.

All of us are begging for others to “watch me.” It’s not a sign of immaturity. It’s a basic confession of human nature. We need to be seen by others.

The Gift of Attention

The age of distraction brings with it many negative consequences. We so need attention that when we do not receive it in positive ways, we will act out in negative ways. The two-year-old’s tantrum, the 18 year-old’s gang involvement, and the 38-year-old’s illicit affairs can likely all be traced back to a need for attention.

But our day also brings opportunity. Every person we meet is desperately craving something that we can give them. It takes little skill and no money. All that is required of us is the intentional effort of fully attending to someone else. It’s the simplest of all acts.

It’s not easy, especially in this day. To fully attend to another requires a great deal of effort. It’s contrarian to our current lifestyles and culture. To give our undivided attention to anything is unusual, much less to give it to a specific person. What if we are needed? What if a message goes unreturned or a notification goes unread? What if something else is more pressing or interesting or entertaining?

No matter how difficult it might be, giving the gift of attention to others is well worth it.

It starts at home:

Spouses. Vowing to love your husband/wife is a vow that they will have unique access into your life. No one deserves more of your undivided attention than your spouse.

Children. Kids have always needed the attention of their parents, but never have they had to fight so hard to get it. While they can’t have it all the time, they deserve to have moments in which your eye (and mind) is on nothing else other than them.

Family. In our busy world, extended family might suffer the most when it comes to time and attention. The command to honor our father and mother doesn’t have an age limit. Long after others stop paying attention, we should continue to see our parents and other family members.

It moves beyond the home:

Employees. Nothing communicates as powerfully to an employee as your undivided attention. When you interact with them in a distracted manner, it communicates that you don’t see them as a person and only value them in what they can produce. But to fully attend to them loudly communicates you care.

Service Industry. Maybe the best way to develop the gift of attention is to serve others who serve you. Instead of using them, attend to them. Even as they serve you–by bringing a cup of coffee, by doing the bank transaction, by working the register, etc–pay attention to them.

Friends. The art of friendship is eroding in our culture. It takes time, effort, and emotional energy. Often it’s easier to escape into social media rather than to be an actual friend to another. Yet we need friendships and friendships need our attention.

How to Give Attention

Attending to someone may be hard to define, but we know when we are doing it. Here are some basic concepts:

Put your phone out of sight and out of sound. Don’t just turn your phone on silent. Put it in a place where it does not have the ability to get your attention.

Make yourself off limits. Either go to a place where you can’t be reached or clearly communicate to others they should not reach you.

Quiet your mind. We spend so little time giving attention to others that our minds often go crazy when we try. Simply allow the ideas and voices to grow quiet. Keep drawing your mind back to the person you are with.

Make eye contact. As attention to others fades, so does eye contact. It’s become so rare in our day, it will make some uncomfortable because they’ve grown accustomed to not being seen. Look people in the eye.

Be still. Physical twitches and fidgeting can be distracting. Still, your body so that the other person knows you are focused on them.

An Attention Dare

Just for today, try a challenge. See how few people truly pay full attention to you. Watch as they talk how often their eyes dart around the room, down at a computer, or at a phone. Notice how often people aren’t fully listening to what you have to say. See if you can find one person who truly makes you feel recognized and understood.

After a day, I think you will see the true attention deficit disorder taking place in our society. We have downplayed our need for attention and we are suffering the consequences of our deception.

Attend to someone today and watch how meaningful it is to them and you.

4 Responses to Why No One Pays Attention to You
  1. Angela Monaghan Reply

    What a wonderful article Kevin. I just lost my husband and there was an enormous number of people at his funeral. Repeatedly I heard phrases about how Dave cared about people and made them feel good about themselves. Reading your article on attention hits home. This is what Dave did very well (unless the game was on in the background). He paid attention to people. It made a difference in their lives. Thank you for so many of your thought-provoking articles.

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      Thank you, Angela. I’m grateful this article reminded you of Dave.

  2. Isaac Thomsen Reply

    Great points. I especially agree with your suggestion to have phones completely away, not just “off but nearby”. There is a fascinating recent study that showed that people were distracted and had decreased cognitive capacity if they could see their phone compared to if it’s in another room. Link:

    https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/06/170623133039.htm

  3. […] Attention. The fear of missing out seduces us into continually keeping an eye out for what is next. ... kevinathompson.com/fullness-of-you

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