As the rush of the holiday season begins to subside, I find myself thinking about the people I got to see, the ones I didn’t, those I spoke with, the gifts that were exchanged, and the memories made as a result of it all. It made me wonder why we cram it all into one small season, why not spread it out over the whole year? If I could give people a gift simply to let them know that they are important to me, that I appreciate having them in my life, that I value them as a friend/family member and a person, and that they are worth more to me than something money could buy, what would I give them? What would mean the most to me from any of these people? It was obvious; the only gift I could possibly give them was the most precious thing I have, the one thing I can never get back, exchange or replace…my time; my undivided attention. I could let my presence be my gift.
Now that may sound boastful or conceited to some, but I don’t mean it that way. My intention is to make another person(s) realize how significant they are to me. To let them know, for at least that period of time, that there is nothing more important. No cell phones, TVs, computers or other electronics; no laundry, work responsibilities, kids to chase, dishwasher to unload etc., just two (or more) people…talking, listening, and/or being, for the sole purpose of connecting, emotionally and/or spiritually, without distractions. Whether it’s on the phone or in person, in a coffee shop, movie theater or at the kitchen counter; for an hour, a day or 15 minutes, the quality of that time is what matters. Experiencing the time as it passes, instead of trying to “capture” it with a selfie.
It may seem strange to think of time as a gift, but what is more valuable? I remember when I was younger and a friend would call to talk. Out of necessity, I would stop everything I was doing and go to the room in the house where the phone was attached to the wall and be completely present. It’s true, I didn’t have a choice at the time, but I also didn’t know any different. If a friend came over we would actually spend our time communicating with each other. There was nothing to watch on TV, no video games to play, no cell phones or computers to stare at, and a fraction of the magazines to compare ourselves to or talk about…we had no choice but to interact. Today, I often find that when I’m on the phone with a friend, I’m also driving, picking up or dropping off children, running errands or, if I’m home, I’m working at my computer, folding laundry, cleaning rooms, etc… and, most of the time, the person on the other end is doing the same sort of things. If I stop and think about it, each of these things deserves my full attention (maybe not the laundry…) and yet it seems natural to do them all at once. What have we sacrificed in exchange for all of our modern “conveniences” or “technological advancements”? Is it worth it? I may be getting a lot more done in a shorter period of time but what am I getting out of any of those things? How are they contributing to my life and/or helping me grow as a person? How much quality am I loosing for the quantity I gain?
Because of “how far we have come”, million dollar industries that make their money making us feel insufficient or not enough, now have the ability to influence us 24/7 and, as a result, have become billion dollar industries. At the same time, in the age of communication, we have stopped communicating WITH each other and simply communicate TO each other. Instead of real people getting together (on the phone or in person) and being present with each other, we post glorified pictures on Facebook, watch reality TV shows that either make us feel bad about ourselves or make us feel better by making someone else look worse, compare ourselves to magazine photos, tweet this, pin that, etc. When did it all become such a contest? What happened to “we’re all in this together”? Aren’t we? What is the difference between “us” and “them”? When did we trade in connection for competition? And was it worth it? Who wins when one of us loses? I grew up hearing that “we are only as strong as our weakest link”…so why aren’t we trying to strengthen each other?
I believe, and there are several studies that agree, that we, as humans, have a strong innate need for connection, just as we do for food, water, etc…. Meaning, we are programed to desire it because we require it. It has actually been shown how this need is imperative, not only for survival but, for communities to thrive. Currently, I believe that we, as a society, are approaching epidemic levels of a deficit of the very connection that has been proven necessary for humans to thrive. Small doses of undivided personal attention from you to your friends/family could be just the antidote we need. I remember when I was younger, my mom worked a lot. She was a wonderful pediatric surgeon and saved many lives. However, she was away from home a lot. Because she was always thinking about me and my siblings, she was constantly picking up little trinkets here and there that she thought would make us happy. I remember, as a child, wishing that I could trade in all the trinkets, and the time it took her to gather them, for one hour of her time all to myself. Children are very sensitive to the primal need for deep, meaningful connection. We become numb, or use to, not having it after a while, but the cumulative negative effects on society continue to grow. It may not be obvious as it gradually occurs, but what about when you look back over time? Can you say that society has improved over the years since the internet was born? I suppose that depends on your perspective, but I’m only talking about it in a sense of people’s hope, faith, and good feelings about life in general; their happiness and feelings of self-worth vs. productivity levels.
What if your time in someone’s life could make just the difference that they needed? What if they then passed that on to someone else? Etc., etc.… Is there a down side? Worst case scenario, you make a memory. So what if this year, you consider giving someone(s) a handmade gift certificate good for one afternoon, a cup of coffee, a half hour phone call, a walk, etc…at some date within the coming year; during which you completely unplug and give the recipient your undivided attention. In your own words, let them know that they are worthy of the one thing you have that you can never get back, your time. Give them the gift that lasts forever, a quality memory. Time is the most precious thing any of us have, without it, we have nothing. Giving someone your time tells them that you value them; they are significant in your life, they matter. Maybe even consider thinking of a topic to discuss, some questions you’d love to hear their answers to, opinions on or perspective of. Maybe you just want to go for a walk and be in their company; tell them things you’d want them to know if you never saw them again (it’s never too soon). Make it a small group thing, a family thing… Just do it, schedule it, put it in your calendar and make it a priority in your life. I promise you will add more to your life with that time than you will lose by missing an exercise class, etc…
In these busy, fast-paced, auto-pilot, hectic, electronic, multitasking times, let your loved ones know what they mean to you by giving them your time and attention. Let your presence be a present. It will be appreciated; if not immediately, in time. Imagine how you would feel if someone special gave that to you…and then treat people the way you want to be treated 😉
Wishing you peace, health, love and deeper/meaningful connection in the New Year and beyond!