Have you ever noticed how no matter where we are or who we’re with, we’re always worrying about what other thing we should be doing someplace else? For some reason, we find it very difficult to really be with the people around us. Having your body show up is the easy part. But to be really present with a person–whether in a time of great joy or sadness, or even during a time that might be described as routine (breakfast or dinner)–is quite another matter.
And, as far as that goes, it is even diffcult to be alone with our inner selves–to be constructively introspective for any significant period of time without wandering off to another mental destination. “The lights are on,” as Ellen Langer would say, “but nobody’s home.”
Moments of “nowness” come and go very quickly. We seem to live in a distractible world in which we are uncomfortable with “unadrenalized” feelings. The logs in our fireplace must always be in flames. The discipline to sit quietly and thoughtfully evades us, so we find ourselves racing from place to place physically as well as mentally. It’s no wonder we are so exhausted at the end of the day.
From early on, we are conditioned to accept the tradeoff of means for ends. Goals occupy our thoughts to the exclusion of all else. We endure the necessary work on the way to achieving the outcome, but we seldom stop to examine the process itself. Therefore, we go to school, not to become lifelong learners, but to graduate. Graduation leads to a job or perhaps more school and a chance for another degree. We work to make money. Work that enriches the soul and stimulates the mind is the exception, not the rule.
So, it is not surprising when in our professional and personal lives we are able to focus clearly on the destination, but the road is a blur. How can we hope to nurture relationships when we can’t even share the experience of the present?
Students of leadership have often made the observation that followers get better after their leaders do. Indeed, we need to improve our ability to be with others, to stay in one place long enough to establish an address of understanding.
As a friend of mine has observed, we must be present to win.