What if you could change the world in a positive way in one second? Even more powerful … what if you could change the world in a positive way in one second, over and over again, anytime you wanted to? Sound like a pipe dream? Perhaps not … here’s what I’m working through right now.
A friend of mine (Greg) sent me a link to a blog post that talked about author Maya Angelou’s suggestion that there are four critical questions that we ask each other all the time. I “liked” this post on Facebook and another friend (Louise) wrote another post about these questions this morning, bringing this topic more powerfully to mind, almost compelling me to write about what is emerging for me. Thanks to Greg and Louise for nudging me forward!
So about these questions!
We don’t often speak these questions. We ask them subconsciously, largely with our eyes. At the same time, we are constantly answering these same questions to those around us, non-verbally, with our eyes and our actions. Those asking the questions then make decisions or assumptions about both themselves or others based on the answers they subconsciously receive. In Louise’s words “we will move closer, or move away. We will seek intimacy, or find distance. It all depends on what we assume the other person is telling us by their actions, words, gestures and expressions.”
So what are these four questions?
- Do you see me?
- Do you care that I’m here?
- Am I enough for you, or do you need me to be better in some way?
- Can I tell that I’m special to you by the way that you look at me?
Think of yourself in the context of these questions. Can you feel them in your intentions when you look at your significant other, best friend, a colleague, your boss or even a stranger in the street? They are quite familiar to me, and the more important the person that I’m asking them of is to me, the more I care about the answers. If I have expectations of being seen and cared for at some level, then I can feel diminished when my questions are dismissed by an averted glance, diverted attention or being ignored.
I can’t control how others answer my questions, but acknowledging that they cause feelings within me, it feels important to me to be aware of their impact on each person I meet and try to be present when they are asked of me, for at least one second. That’s all the time it takes for me to look them in the eye, hold their gaze and smile. By doing so I say to them, “I see you”, “I’m glad you’re here” and “I appreciate you for who you are”. I know that’s only three answers but I think it enough to sense that both the asker and the answerer would have a positive experience and send each off to the next connection wanting a bit more of the same.
Conversely, if I avert my eyes I might be saying: “I don’t see you”, which might imply “I don’t care”, “you are unimportant” or “you aren’t good enough for me”. As I read those answers I, as the answerer of the questions, already feel smaller, less important and less impactful. Imagine how the asker feels!
While the idea sounds quite simple and worthy, I’d actually propose that it may actually be hard, even more so when we are meeting strangers or those outside our normal network. Because by stopping to take that one second to see someone means we are risking being seen ourselves. We may feel insecure in what we are projecting, or may hear all of our internal critics firing at us about what is wrong with us. When we pick our head up look a stranger in the eye and smile, we convey not only our love and appreciation of that person, but our love and appreciation of ourselves. And if we aren’t valuing ourselves at that moment, we are less likely to project those same feelings toward others.
However, I’m pretty sure it isn’t always that dramatic. I think most often we are more often distracted by something already in flight for us and unintentionally convey less desirable answers to others. Distracted you say? How much of your day do you go through with a smart phone or other device in front of you? Does it occupy you more than you care to admit? When your spouse comes home do you disconnect from the device long enough to convey your love and appreciation to him/her as they ask you four questions?
Imagine knowing that your self-compassion is strong and able to support a great connection with anyone you happen to encounter … loved, known or otherwise. And imagine that you mindfully exercise that power by ensuring that you are not distracted by a device (or have conditioned yourself to break from its powers) and therefore fully present for those you may encounter. Imagine creating those connections by looking them in the eye, holding their gaze, smiling and creating a space for them to reach out to you in a more meaningful way. Each of has it within us. Each of actually can decide to make an impact in the world, one person at a time. Or at least in our corner of the world … at home, at work, with friends … where we can see the impact more clearly.
Now imagine we don’t. Imagine that the power of the device, or the negativity in the world news, or the “busyness” of our lives has us so distracted and disconnected from our own self and our rightful place in the world that we remain unavailable to provide validation to other humans. Now imagine that everyone you meet does that (and smartphone proliferation is certainly introducing the potential for this to happen more and more) and the norm now is separation from others, uncertainty about our place in the world, feelings that we are uncared for and unimportant. What now?
What if there are millions of people like that? Do we think we might start to see more acts of desperation in society? Will we see more violent acts against innocent people driven by a lack of authentic connection and a loss of sense of self or personal value? I know this is a doomsday scenario and I don’t believe in it at this extreme. But I do believe that there is a path that points in this direction.
Our evolution as a species is only few short generations from virtually all communication happening in a face-to-face manner, facilitating the emotional connectedness that is a feature of advanced, social species such as ours. Gestures, eye movements, body language and other non-verbal communication have so much to do with how we connect as humans. Yet in this last generation or two, we have introduced so many technologies and attributes in our society that place obstacles between us and that privilege. Our emotional evolution will take centuries, if not millennia, to catch up to this disruption.
So I propose that it is up to each one of us to embrace a certain mindfulness. An ability to be present in any given second with any given person. To give up one second, a few times a day to help allow the power of our social nature work for the betterment of ourselves and everyone around us. How might you go about being one of the impactful people in the world.
A Final Word: and a special “shout out” to new parents. Your infant child or toddler relies on these non-verbal connections. They are critical to their development as secure humans, and the ramifications of the quality of their attachment to their primary caregiver during this period impact their emotional intelligence as adults. If you’re interested, you can learn more by studying Attachment Theory. So when you are pushing your infant in a stroller, breast-feeding or otherwise just hanging out with them. Consider what might be happening to your precious child when your attention is elsewhere, like on your phone. Don’t beat yourself up … just think about it.