If there’s one tip I can give you to improve all of your relationships — family, friends, work — right this very minute, it is this:
Stop looking at a screen instead of the human in front of you.
Seriously. If you give a damn about the human in front of you, do these three things right now:
- Stop yourself from looking away from them.
- Stop allowing distraction to control you.
- Give the person in front of you the full attention they deserve as a human being.
- Not half.
- Not 3/4.
- Not 7/8.
Yes, I know you’re busy. Yes, I know you have important obligations. Yes, I know it’s only a quick glance.
If you are in conversation with another person:
- Put your phone in your pocket.
- Do not look at your Apple Watch.
- Stop the noises on your computer from “dinging” with alerts. (You’re just annoying other people, and you’re hampering their productivity and yours.)
- Keep your laptop screen open if you must, but keep your eyes on the person in front of you!
Lately, if I’m having a meal with friends or co-workers and I don’t have a bag to put my phone in, I’ve just been tucking my phone under my hamstring, right there between my leg and the chair. I don’t even put it on the table. No phone in eye-line, no distraction. Just me and them and full attention between us, at least from my side. (I can do nothing about their behavior, but I can do something about my own.)
Because every time I look at a screen instead of the human speaking to me, I am telling them, “I don’t really care. Everything else is more important than you.”
I’ve made this mistake enough in life. So many times. So many people tried to tell me and the old stubborn me wouldn’t listen.
Well, I’m listening now, and I refuse to make that mistake anymore.
- Phone down and out of sight.
- Sounds muted.
- Complete attention on.
(Sure, there are exceptions to this rule. But be smart about them, and be polite. “Mind if I check my phone quickly? I’m waiting for news about my mom.” “Hey, can you look up when the movie starts?” “Holy moly, did you see this meme?”)
As our society grows in distractions, there are many ways to lose our humanity, and many ways to hold onto it, to reclaim it, to choose to be human first and a consumer (of anything) second.
- In an age of distance, be close.
- In an age of inhumanity, be fully human.
- In an age of growing incivility, be civil.
If I can do this, so can you. Join me, and be the example you want your kids to follow. Be gloriously human.