If you are ever in a spelling bee and you are given the word “presence” make sure you ask to have it pronounced again and again, and used in a sentence. Then you will know it is a word that has nothing to do with Christmas.
Presence has to do with giving ones whole, undivided attention to the other whether it is another person or a grand redwood tree. It is a gift that is becoming rare with the introduction of every new electronic gizmo.
Today in everyday campus life, in classrooms and in social situations “presence” cannot be assumed and we are often not one hundred percent present! Formerly the only threat to complete attention a teacher encountered would have been day dreaming or passing of notes when names were being called and the expected response was “present.”
Presence cannot be taken for granted today. The end organs, the eyes and ears, are more often focused on a laptop, smart phone or some new found gadget. Deliberation is required to give attention to the other.
Giving another person one’s undivided attention seems to be, for a lot of people, a lost art. Those deeply entrenched in the wireless environment present special problems when one is trying to get their attention. The cell phone allows for multitasking on a grand scale. And various social media systems attempt to make one present simultaneously to everyone all of the time. Few experience one hundred percent attention from the other.
A blogger writes about the bowed head syndrome which refers to members of her audience texting and looking at computer screens while she is giving a speech. And forget having any conversation with a group in a restaurant; between the ubiquitous TV screens and persons in the group texting and talking on cell phone presence is very rare, and so is conversation.
Readers of the comic strip Zit experience a humorous account of the problem of presence and can sympathize with parents in the strip as they cope with a son who communicates only via cell phone. Call Zit on the phone even if he is across the table, that’s how to get his attention, maybe.
I was reminded of the value of presence to nature once while standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon meditating on its grandeur when I noticed the person next to me making a video recording so that he could look at it when he got home! What about now? How about being present now!
Today more than ever we need to make deliberate efforts to separate ourselves from every wireless device and give our presence to the other whether person or sunset. For sure, Buber’s “I Thou” did not foresee competition from the wireless world but it’s still the same problem.