Give the Gift of “Attending”

It’s always nice to receive an unexpected gift, especially this time of year. This week I was genuinely surprised by one of those presents. The staff of the Southeast Regional College in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, sat with me for a day and gave me their presence as I led them through a workshop on building an accountable organization. They are a delightful organization whose byline reads:
“Where minds and possibilities meet.” Gracious, open, receptive, supportive, caring… just a few of the words I would use to describe this remarkable group of people.

I was particularly appreciative of their generous attentiveness under the circumstances as when I arrived, I was suffering from a head cold and throat infection that substantially diminished the quality and volume of my voice. My energy was so low that at times it was difficult to remain standing.

But they patiently hung in there with me the entire day. They willingly engaged in the learning experience. And they gave freely of themselves and to each other in the process. I was uplifted by their presence and by the end of the workshop I had more energy than when I began.

Since I’ve come home and recovered from the head cold, I have been attentive to a rather odd little word, a word that I’ve been mulling over the past few days that came as an unwrapped gift, given so sincerely to me by this humble learning community in Southeast Saskatchewan. The word is ‘attend.’ Merriam Webster describes attend as: “to pay attention to, to look after, to be present with, to apply oneself, to be listened to, to be valued…”

To be attended to is uplifting, heartening, and inspiring. It is a gift in the truest sense as it responds to a fundamental human need: the need to make an impact.

Here are five simple ways to offer the gift of ‘attending’ to others, especially at this time of year:

  1. Pay attention to people’s names. Cashiers, waitresses, and customer service representatives – they have a name-tag for a reason. Everyone is uplifted, even if ever so slightly, when they hear the sound of their own name. On the farm, my mother was adamant, “don’t name the chickens.” She understood that naming transforms your relationship. Naming someone changes them from an object or a number to a human being – with emotions, needs, and values. Naming someone turns a ‘transaction,’ into a ‘transformation.’
  2. Replace waiting with something more constructive. By simply attending to what’s going on inside and around you, you’ll soon discover that waiting is not a very healthy state of mind. It’s focused on the future. It breeds impatience. Waiting comes with expectations, which are premeditated resentments. Waiting leaves you empty and frustrated because it’s self-serving. Whether you are waiting for the red light to change or for a teller at the bank, practice choosing an alternative state of mind. Take a moment for some deep breaths and have some rest. Cheer up the person in front of you. Or let the person behind you, who is even  more impatient than you, in the line front of you.
  3. Practice small acts of generosity. Attending means taking the time to be present for both yourself and others. When you attend, even briefly, to your inner sense of well-being, you know that it takes the same effort to be generous as it does to be selfish, and the result is completely different. Just for one day this week, practice giving to others whatever you expect from others. When it comes to generosity, the small things are so often the big things. A smile. A message of encouragement. A pat on the back. A little patience. Doesn’t cost a thing and can make such a difference.
  4. Be present. It has been said that the best present you can ever give someone is to be fully present in the present. There aren’t many ways better to attend to someone than to be present with them; to tune in, to feel with, to listen without judging or a need to fix. The giving of advice can never take the place of giving of yourself. It is interesting how our fast-paced, crazy, demanding world has created a syndrome called ‘attention deficit disorder.’ Maybe our biology is simply asking our souls to s-l-o-w d-o-w-n and attend to ourselves and each other more simply and more deeply. There is more to life than increasing its speed.
  5. Practice gratitude. It appears to be human nature that the more we get the more we want. It is easy to become spoiled in the self-demanding, post-modern society we live in. Try living in a third world country for a few months and see how it changes your view. Entitlement, along with its accompanying self-centered expectation for self-gratification, is not taking us any closer to a more peaceful, contented world. What you attend to grows. What you appreciate appreciates.

I hope that you will make a little room over the upcoming holidays to practice attending. It will go along way. And, when you make more room for attending it will improve the quality of your life and all the relationships in it.

I view the world as a big pot. We all contribute and remove what we need from the ‘community pot.’ Every time you need something, you dip in and take it out of the pot. When you don’t need anything from the pot, you put a little something back in: a little attention, support, comfort, kindness, love, and so on. If we all throw a little in every day, then when we need it, the pot will have just what we need.