Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Paying Attention to Someone IS Love


After reading my last post about Gerardo's hospitalization, one of my friends wrote this to me:

The word "gaze" will always mean so much more to me. I have a reminder posted above my desk from a quote I read a while back. "Paying attention to someone is love." I find that paying attention to my grandkids is what they want most. Their simple delight when they see we are watching feels like love back. The way you, Monica and Andrew and the staff intently paid attention was the love Gerardo needed to hang in there against very tough odds. Gerardo circled love back with his gaze and yet conserved his needed energy. I look forward to hearing what the days ahead bring. There are so many of us hoping for a transplant soon.

Attention IS love. It is also currency. It is the most valuable resource that I possess in this attention-driven economy where through the addictive tools of technology, my attention is pulled in directions that I don't even realize exist, all clamoring for my clicks, likes, and dollars. Crisynda reminds me that attention outside the economic realm has the power to make a person feel loved and seen, more than any purchased material.

This point is one that I have been making to my students for the past four years teaching at UC Irvine, with the help of Jenny Odell's book, How to Do Nothing.

I am fortunate to have a life where I don't teach more than one class at a time, and that my class size is small, usually no more than 40 students at a time. This allows me the capacity to give tailored feedback on the papers that I ask students to write on a weekly basis. It allows me to meet with students individually outside of class. It allows me to be completely present during lectures and to give each student concentrated attention. Students have said to me that they are not used to the attention. They are used to larger class sizes and instructors with good intentions spread so thinly that usually, the final grade is the only feedback that they get.

When I used to be a social worker for child protective services, my caseload was through the roof, which has been and continues to be the case for the profession famous for the burn-out factor. For most social workers, there is hardly any time to give proper attention to the children who are supposed to be shepherded because they are expected to shepherd so many.

When I used to be editor-in-chief within the magazine publishing industry, my workload was also through the roof with never enough time to give proper attention to any single magazine because there were so many to produce.

Regardless of the profession, it seems that people in charge try to invent new interventions to improve systems. Whether it's teaching, social work, publishing, or the work of being a human, I think the intervention that is most effective is when we can organize ourselves so that we are not spread so thinly. 

Because isn't the intervention that really makes sense a smaller class size? A smaller caseload? Fewer magazines? Less hustle? Less pretending?

Isn't the work of being human found not in the shallow glance of the clamor but the deep gaze of the calm? Isn't that love?

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