I sat with a group of friends recently and chatted about life. There was a new individual there I didn't know. Zach was a 60-year-old man, retired from Boeing and was crafting a new life.
While I was very interested in his new life and what it was like to be retired, Zach preferred to ask about me and my new book coming out soon. He was filled with questions.
"Tell me why you wrote the book," he asked. "Why did you write a book about emotional abuse? Do you many men who are emotionally abusive?"
He maintained rapt attention for over half an hour while I excitedly told him about the book and my interest in this topic. Later that evening I told my wife about the exchange.
"What were you and Zach talking about?" Christie asked.
"He wanted to know all about the new book," I said.
"You two were talking for quite a while," she said.
"Yes," I said. "He kept asking me questions and making comments about emotional abuse."
"I think he really likes to listen and understand people," Christie said.
"Absolutely," I said. "I hardly had a chance to ask about him. But he's doing some exciting things too. It was nice to talk to him."
As I reflected upon this evening, I was aware of how rare it is to actually show someone complete attention, actively listening to what they have to say and what they want to share. I was aware of the pleasure I felt at someone caring enough about me to ask depth questions.
Everyone has a story and most want to share it. Everyone has something exciting and interesting happening in their life, as well as something painful occurring, and if you ask, showing genuine attention, they will often share it with you.
When I consider what Zach did with me, and for me, I'm reminded of the life of Christ. He listened to people. Never hurried, he showered others with the gift of attention. He cared when the fishermen were not catching fish and when Mary and Martha had lost their brother. He cared when there were those who were sick.
Scripture is concerned about this topic: "Do not be interested only in your own life, but be interested in the lives of others." (Philippians 2:4, NCV)
Can you honestly say you are interested in the lives of others? Certainly, you care about them. You love them. But, do you sit and ask depth questions about the real joys of their lives or the real sorrows? This shows true caring.
If you would like to give the gift of attention, consider doing the following:
1. Have an attitude of attentiveness.
An attitude of attentiveness does not naturally occur. Most of us are preoccupied with events and concerns occurring in our own lives. We must clear away enough mental space to make room for new information. We must set aside our preoccupations, agendas and interests to show interests in other. Again, Christ is our model for doing this.
2. Choose who you will attend to.
You cannot give your attention to anyone and everyone. We all have limited time and attention. Select whom you will attend to and then begin the process. Choose who you will attend to, showing genuine interest and energy, caring and compassion.
3. Ask good questions.
Good questions will guide the conversation. If you want to know more about a person and what interests them, ask them. Gentle questions conveys you really care about them, what interests and concerns them and what they might want to talk about.
A good, positive conversation is really a dance—a give and take process whereby we sense where our partner wants to go and what they want to talk about. We are sensitive to areas of excited interest and are cautious when hitting a nerve.
4. Converse about the information you receive.
Good conversation flows. One good question leads to an answer and perhaps another series of questions, like peeling an onion. Learning more and more, you pay keen attention to the flow of the conversation, slowing down when appropriate and bringing the conversation to an end when appropriate.
5. Cultivate attentiveness.
Paying attention may, at first, not come naturally to you. Like any skill, you can become more adept at conversing and attending to others. Again, remember that showing attention, caring and conversing are often the highest forms of love. Show others you care about their lives by practicing these steps with those in your world.