Let me see a raise of hands to this question (virtually, of course): how many of you are guilty of being physically present with someone, but not mentally or emotionally? I bet if I could see you all, I would see a lot of hands. I have to admit, I raised mine, too.
I'm not proud of it.
You see, as a communication professor, I preach to my students (and my kids) about "being present." I tell them that most of communication is simply to show the other person that you care, and that they matter to you. How do you do that? By being present.
So that's why I feel guilty on the occasions when I do it myself. Here's a common scenario. My 11-year-old son loves sports. He loves to play them, and much to my chagrin, he has even started to watch them on TV (to me, it's a 'snoozefest'). And so sometimes, when he comes home from school, he will want to tell me every little teensy, tiny detail of the basketball game he and his friends played at recess. He scored five more baskets than anyone else. He stole the ball from ol' "what's-his-name." And yet another "what's-his-name" couldn't jump as high as the other "what's his name." *Yawn*
And my 13 year-old-son is a trivia addict. I can't tell you how many times a day I hear, "Mom, did you know that if the sun exploded, life on earth would continue to live for exactly 21.99348 hours? Then we would all melt and implode." (I just made that up, but that's the kind of stuff he reads about and thinks everyone else wants to know just as much as he does). Don't worry, I already told him not to be "Crazy Trivia Guy" when he's on a first date, or that could be the only one he has. Ha!
And do you know what I hear when they talk about stuff like that?
"Whah Whah Whah Whah Whah" (I hope all of you can hear in your head how the adults speak in the Charlie Brown cartoons).
Yep, that's how it feels.
Yes, I'm looking right at them. Yes, I even give some verbal feedback like "Wow, really? So interesting. Great job, honey! I'm really proud of you!" But do I actually hear what they are saying?
Ummm... no. Not always.
I know I'm making myself sound like a bad mother and a bad communication professor. But I usually do love talking to my kids. It just depends on the topic. I love talking about their friends, the girls they like, or who likes them. I like talking to them about life lessons, goals, and how to be a better person. But random sports details? Or mind-numbing random trivia? Well, that is MUCH more of a challenge for me to stay focused.
So how often do YOU catch yourself not being "present"? You could be guilty of texting other people or picking up the phone when you are hanging out with a friend. And some of you may constantly check your phone in the presence of others for no apparent reason other than out of pure habit. Or you could be watching TV and not willing to turn your attention to your spouse when she/he tells you about their day. We're all guilty of it. It's just a matter of catching yourself and working on being better.
So next time you hear the Charlie Brown adults' voices in your head (Whah Whah Whah Whah Whah) when you are with someone, make yourself pay attention. Or put away that phone. We all deserve to have someone's full attention. You want other people to be present with you, right? So live by the Golden Rule and return the respect.