My daughter/partner Rachel spent a year studying art in Italy and one of the biggest things I, as her mother, got out of the whole experience is the Italian phrase “Sono qui adesso” (SOH-noh kwee uh-DESS-oh). This phrase actually has two translations: one is a command: “Be here now”; the other is the statement “I am here now” meaning “I’ve arrived”. In this new world of “multi-tasking”, I love both interpretations and I think there is something very important that our social media-savvy society can learn from the Italians.
First of all, there really is no such thing as multi-tasking. It is NOT possible to do two things at once. Only one grain of sand can go through the hourglass at a time. Even something as simple as putting dishes in the sink while talking on the phone requires a momentary lapse of attention from the phone call to make sure the dishes are not broken in transit (I tried this just yesterday). The poor fast food clerk required to take orders and give change “at the same time” is really having the person at the order window wait while he/she gives change to the person at the pick-up window – because the person at the pick-up window is LIVE and the person at the order window is just a disembodied voice. This is no reflection on the clerk – they are simply given an impossible task. The sooner we stop fooling ourselves into thinking that we can do two things at once, the more efficient we will actually be. Oddly enough, this is just the opposite of the much more common act of ignoring a LIVE person in favor of a disembodied voice on the cell phone, or worse yet, disembodied WORDS being TYPED on a cell phone.
Which brings me to my next point: we cannot be in two places at the same time. We cannot be in a meeting and take a phone call. We cannot have lunch with our friend and be texting another friend. We cannot be enjoying a concert and talking to our boyfriend. Put it down! Shut it off! You cannot possibly be participating in the meeting in any meaningful way if you are on the phone. You cannot possibly hear what I am saying to you if you are texting someone else, even if you are looking right at me (with the glazed-over eyes that tell me your mind is somewhere else). You cannot possibly be feeling the music the way the musicians and composer intended if you are dialing your friends and holding the phone up for them to hear the distorted sounds over the phone and then talking about how great the concert is WHILE the music is being played. The sooner we stop fooling ourselves into thinking that we can be in two places at the same time, the more humane we will be. I was at the Grammys in New York the year that Simon & Garfunkel re-united (the very back row of Madison Square Garden, but still…). They were singing, ironically enough, “The Sounds of Silence” and the woman next to me was ON THE PHONE!!
I debated saying something to her, but it would have only created more of a disturbance, and after ruining the moment, she did finally hang up. She was not there. She was not present. If she tells her friends she heard that performance, I can tell you she didn’t. And I almost didn’t, either.
Whoever it is, they can wait. You’re busy. You are here now – with me. Sono qui adesso. Be here now! Be present. I am listening to you and my phone is off. OK, maybe mothers with children may need to step outside to take a call from a child or the child’s school. If you are waiting for a specific call, I’m sure you told me that when we sat down, and that you would have to take that ONE CALL, should it come during our lunch. I’m sure you put the phone on vibrate and then glanced down only long enough to determine if that was THE call, forsaking all others in favor of me. Because I have chosen to be here now…with you. I am giving this portion of my life to you and I don’t want just half of your attention. Sono qui adesso.
Try this experiment – it is really quite amazing. Try giving your UNDIVIDED attention to everyone you speak to for just one day. Put the phone, pencil, mouse, pen, ipod, whatever, down, and focus your attention on the speaker. I did this once years ago, and was stunned at how much more I got out of all my interactions. And no, I haven’t done it since because it does take effort. I wish I could say that I do that every day. When I’m with you, I may not be on the phone, but I’m daydreaming or planning what I’m going to say next. I’m not quite present. I think I don’t have time to focus clearly on the people talking to me, but of course I do. We all do. And what a sales technique! What a flirting technique! Listening and focusing on the person speaking to us. It’s what we all crave – to be heard. If you really listened to your friends and clients, I bet your life would turn around – mine, too!
Remember in elementary school when roll was taken and we raised our hands and said “here” when our name was called? Be here now. Be HERE. Be present. Get off the phone and be in this moment… Sono qui adesso…with me.