Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Be There

At the end of the 1963 movie, Cleopatra, Marc Antony (Richard Burton) falls on his sword and is taken to die in Cleopatra's (Elizabeth Taylor) arms. Soon after he dies, Octavian (Roddy McDowall) confronts Cleopatra and demands she return to Rome with him. Cleopatra replies, but never looks up from the floor. Octavian is furious and demands of her that she "look me in the eye!" Over and over he yells, "Look me in the eye!" Each time she glances at him and then turns away.

As I watched this old film I was reminded of the times in my life I was told to look someone in the eye. The earliest memory I have is my Dad setting my down in a chair across from him to discuss the transgression I had committed. I didn't see it as such a big deal. After all, he used those words in anger, why couldn't I? But I sat there, head hanging down, feeling ashamed and hurt for my error.

Dad calmly spoke and wanted me to look him in the eye. As I did I could see he wasn't going to do me great bodily harm. Instead, he was going to share words of forgiveness.

I thought about that day for a long time. Why did Dad want me to look him in the eye? Finally, it dawned on me -- he wanted my full and undivided attention. He wanted me to concentrate and remember his words. He did not want me distracted and inattentive. To this day I am honored when people give me their full and undivided attention, which is usually signaled by looking me in the eye.

Yes, I have been at meetings and have watched people feign attention as they gazed out the window, answered e-mails or texted their friends. I have talked to the back of kids' heads as they watched TV. I have yelled into the other room in an effort to exert my knowledge -- all done to no avail. The window gazers, e-mail texters and TV watchers are not paying attention to me. Sometimes I feel like Octavian and want to scream, "Look me in the eye!"

I want people to be there in the communication process. By "be there" I mean I want to know they are focusing on me and my words, just as I focus on them and theirs. We lament the lack of communication in our modern world, but if we would just be there in our discussions, we would find our communication much improved.

Men, consider what I'm saying. Always be there for those you communicate with. Pay attention. Resist the urge to let your mind wander as you think of your reply. Listen to what they're telling you. The message you may be disregarding for some daydream or another tick off of your mental to-do list, might be something very close to the person's heart you're talking to.

After all, we can all use somebody to talk to every now and then.

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