The Balanced Blog

Can the Gift of our Attention Absolve our Arrogant Guard?

Be it nature or nurture growing into an adult is a complex process. Too often we are tempted to stand off safely on the sidelines and observe, which is good for hide and seek or a laboratory scientist but not for emotional availability or a joyfully involved life. As a social species we are practiced escape artists with habitual eye contact on our shoes or other such inanimate objects removed from conversation.  As adults we grow cognitively, emotionally, and physically while becoming assertive and assured. On the journey we strive to become engaged in easy conversation with most persons – until we can’t.

That’s when the game changes!

Our dialogue gets tripped up at emotional levels when we guard ourselves against our lacking knowledge. I admit I’ve learned something during my journey. Being openhearted is a prerequisite for being caring and wise but not only. We also need social skills to build friendships along the way: being curious about others; revealing vulnerability at an apt pace; disagreeing without poisoning relationships; being a good listener; knowing how to ask for and offer forgiveness; hosting a gathering with inclusivity so others feel embraced; learning to see issues from another point of view.

Unaware of this trip up, we become defensive – a contrarian in conversations or interactions. And this tension works both ways, not with everyone and not always visible. We may do this to mask our lack of confidence or emotional anxiety. Disagreement on both sides likely disguises discomfort.

People want to connect. Beyond most needs we all want to be accepted and validated but often lack the practical knowledge of how to convey the focused attention we crave. The results of our social clumsiness are obvious. Probably thirty percent of people in the world are curious about others. The rest are nice people who don’t really care about others, which might be since they’ve never been taught how to convey their curiosity.

Too many people say they feel disrespected or invisible. If we shine positive attention on others, we help them to blossom. Acknowledging their potential likely permits them to see their own capability. We live in a brutalizing time with limited family time or parental guidance. Too often parents expect friendship from their children or vice versa. People everywhere are coping with negativity – contempt, pain, anger, anxiety, or fear. How do we stay mentally healthy and spiritually whole? The gift of our attention to others is the most generous gift any of us can give.

Some people are so into themselves they are quicker to judge others and make them feel insignificant. They make assumptions about who they should be and label or stereotype them. On the other hand there are those who have a persistent curiosity about people. They ask the right questions to invite the viewpoint of another and shine the light of their interest on people making them feel bigger, brighter, and brilliant.

Each of us has a unique way of showing up in the world. A person who radiates warmth will bring out the glowing qualities of people they meet. A person who exhibits formality and reserve may encounter the same qualities and find those people detached and stiff. The gift of our attention ensures inspiration and brings life to each aspect of their being that otherwise would have no vitality.

Our attention to people should be meaningful and warm without reserved disinterest. We seek to meet another with infinite dignity to value the entire person with preconditioned interest no matter the culture or gender. When our gaze communicates respect, we answer their unstated questions: “Am I a person to you?” “Am I a priority to you?” Your eyes answer those questions. When we look at people with deference, we convey their worth.     

Ninety percent of our waking life is going about our own business. We are not likely to see beyond the end of our nose or personal encounters. Accompaniment is a good analogy - a meeting at work, small talk while picking up children at school, or dinner with friends. When we are in the company of others - call them “lingerables” - we can abandon the proficient mindset and just delight in their company. These people are great camaraderie who bring enjoyment to a conversation and encourage each member to be attentive and supportive to the conversation.    

Our dialogue depends on the quality of our questions. Initially, I ask people where they grew up. Most people like to reflect upon their childhoods. Or I ask where they got their names. That gets them talking about their families, ethnicity and cultural backgrounds.

At a recent dinner party I asked a question that might have sounded a bit pretentious: “How do your ancestors show up in your life?” It led to a great conversation in which we discussed how our family cultures inform us. When you are curious and ask effective and wise questions you adopt a humble posture that honors others by giving them the gift of your attention.

My notion of wisdom has changed over time. I used to think the wise person was a lofty sage who doled out life altering advice in the manner of Yoda or Dumbledore or Solomon. But now I think the essential gift of the wise person is focused and sensitive listening.  

The ability to feel and think without contrary defense - affirming the magnitude of our emotional elasticity – is to cry, laugh, and honor discrepancy with fluidity. We learn from our emotions without making them our enemy. They sustain our attention and keep our conversation on track.

We give the gift of our attention by shifting the flow of conversation to caring. Now we are able to wash away the arrogant guard of our attitudes by perceiving the current tide and creating a new dynamic.


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Irene Klotz, ACC, LMSW, CPT
Certified - Worldwide; Licensed - NY State
3265 Johnson Avenue
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Riverdale section of the Bronx
New York 10463

Telephone: 718-708-4188 Cell: 917-796-4456

Irene Klotz, Health Advocate and professional Life Coach providing medical expertise for chronic illness and pain, empowered health and survival, wellness, and therapeutic counseling for emotional challenges. 

Sessions by appointment at home, your doctor's office, by FaceTime or Skype, or at her Riverdale office accessible by auto or public transportation.