Ours is, ironically, an attention-starved world. With more things than ever competing for our attention, the folks in our lives tend to miss out. You know — the ones walking in our hallways, standing to pack up their things after each of our classes, sitting in our living areas at home. But it's not just all these other folks that end up missing out on attention — it's us, too.
And, over time, this pressurizes our souls.
So what do we do when we sense that our soul is packed with pressure — specifically, when we find ourselves craving the sense of being noticed, listened to, valued, affirmed?
Here's the gist: we do those things for others.
Do we really all want to be famous?
This morning I read and then took a walk reflecting on this piece from The Atlantic, “To Be Happy, Hide from the Spotlight” by Arthur Brooks. In it, Brooks shares the following statistics:
- In a 2012 study, fame was the biggest goal in life for children in the U.S. ages 10 to 12.
- In a 2017 survey of a thousand British children, the most popular choice for a future career was “YouTuber.”
- According to Gallup, 92 percent of American adults say that other people believe “a person is successful if they are rich, have a high-profile career, or are well-known.” (In other words, most of us give the impression to others that being well-known is a big part of what it means to be successful.)
Now in the article, Brooks was focused on fame and how the pursuit of happiness requires, counter-intuitively, the resistance of fame's lure.
But this is what I took away: what we want isn't fame, but to be seen, known, appreciated. We want the loving attention of other people. Especially people we care about.
And though Brooks concludes that this is a byproduct of evolutionary days gone by, I make a simpler conclusion: you and me need this stuff because humans just do.
And the key to getting it? Gently, genuinely giving it.
Practical methods for depressurizing your soul
Remember, this is a series not about making other people do what you want. It's a series about moving our souls toward wholeness and integrity, so that from a place of fullness and fire we can educate in alignment with our calling.
So I'm not promising that the following strategies will make other people attend to you. Do not enter into them with that in mind, or they'll not work as I intend. Rather, these things, when done freely and gladly, will depressurize your soul.
Practical methods to try at school
Hey, I like that thing you do
The next time you check your email, see if there's anything in it that evinces something that someone does that's admirable. For example, the other day, I had an email from a colleague who was organizing some tables at a local pub to celebrate the holidays as a faculty once break is here. And I thought, “She's always doing stuff like that. What a valuable act of service.”
Then, make a point in your day to find the person who has done something admirable and just tell them, verbally, “Hey. That's really cool that you did that. Thank you.” You don't need to be emotive or over the top or turn it into a long conversation — just report what you see.
(I find this in-person action a lot better at depressurizing my soul than sending a “Reply All” or “Reply” with the same affirmation. Emails add pressure to the social sphere; genuine, in-person affirmations depressurize it.)
How it's not one more thing: I'm mindful that lots of us don't want a single extra grain of rice added to our plates right now. So, how is this not one more thing? A network of positive relationships at work is critical for our own resilience. Few things are as quick as building mutual admiration than a person taking 60 seconds to come and tell another person, “Hey — this thing that you do, I appreciate it.” And again, you don't need to muster up an act here — no need to be fawning or emotive. Just genuinely report the goodness you see.
Scanning the roster for a smile
Each day before school, scan over your roster for something that's admirable in one of your students. Slowly go over the names, and see if any elicit a smile. When you find one, highlight it a special color, and make a point that day before or after class to briefly pull the student aside and tell them the thing you were thinking this morning that you admire about them.
How it's not one more thing: We need to send signals of care to our students if we hope to be credible to them, and teacher credibility is the most efficient path I know of for improving motivation and results in your classroom. The most efficient way to send these signals to all students is via tracking moments of genuine connection. So what we're doing in this exercise is simply combining tracking MGCs with depressurizing our souls. We're doing a thing that fundamentally needs doing, but with a minor added twist that helps depressurize our souls.
Reflect back what someone says
I'm been thinking lately of getting a tattoo written backwards on my forehead that says, “LISTEN. REFLECT. SERVE.” These are things that don't come naturally to me, and my worst seasons relationally are the ones in which I neglect them.
That reflect part is this: The next time you're in a conversation, after the person says something, say it back to them — not mindlessly or verbatim, but in a way that forces you to think on what they've said and make them know that you've heard them. This takes a bit of extra time, but it's the time that is required when human beings want to genuinely hear and talk with each other, other than just responding to each other.
Practical applications at home
If you live with others, you can do the same exercises as above.
- Tell someone something they do that you noticed today that you appreciate.
- Tell someone that you were thinking today about a certain thing you admire about them.
- Reflect back what someone says (a child, a spouse), ESPECIALLY when they are communicating something that is bothering them.
If you don't live with others, you can do those exercises via the phone — and hey, why not combine the phone call with a five-out, five-in? Depressurizing the social and the body, at the same time. Boom.
The absolute key
The most critical thing with all of these is that you are not doing them to get any desired action from other people. You are doing them because you've got a soul that needs relief and because they're human beings wrought with a dumbfounding weight of dignity.
But, before you know it, you'll see: folks will start attending to you, and you won't be an attention-starved creature when they do because your need for attention will have diminished via giving it to others.