Not too long ago, I was waiting outside a public men’s restroom for my husband to come out. He is disabled and whenever we go travel, there are challenges to be dealt with. I’m often aware that we are slow and inconvenient for people around us. I’m also aware that the husband needs to have his dignity protected and his needs addressed with kindness. This is a balancing act and my patience or lack thereof is often on display.
On this particular day a man came out of the restroom ahead of my husband and stopped to encourage me. I forget exactly what he said, but it was something about having noticed us and feeling that we were a good example. He evidently had caught one of my more patient moments and had given thought to what life was like for us.
As he went on down the hall, he stopped to talk to another elderly woman who was sitting on a bench. He got down on a knee to be on eye level with her. This man was an expert “noticer”. He was building relationships. I found out later that he was a very prominent man in the community and in his field of business. He had at one time addressed a United Nations assembly. I believe his behavior and his prominence are related.
Sometimes I notice, and sometimes I don’t. The more often I notice people, really see them, the better my relationships with them become. But noticing is something of an art.
There are times when I am so focused on what’s going on in my head that I’m blind to what’s going on around me. People have facial expressions, body language, behaviors and words and I should be paying attention if I value the relationship with them.
It’s the best feeling in the world when I’m able to do a successful “notice”. Especially with my daughters, if I’m able to pick up on when they are frustrated and need to talk, I can just listen. When I sense they need some privacy or alone time, I can disappear. And when they need some help, I can figure out a way to help them. Over the years we have learned to count on each other to notice because they do the same for me. Our relationships are all the more comfortable and beneficial because we know each other from our years of noticing.
Noticing is very much like the present trend of being “in the moment” and fully aware. It’s probably not something any of us can do all the time but we can intentionally get better at it. We once had a neighbor who was a police artist. My mom took some art lessons from him and they talked at length about how few people are prepared to be expert witnesses, because they don’t notice with intent. See if this exercise gives you increased awareness of what you notice:
Think of a person you love, with whom you have a relationship – someone you are with often. If you had to describe them, or if you tried to draw them yourself, what would that be like? Think of the details of their face, the most prominent features, their most usual expression. If you were asked what their most recent concern was, would you be able to name it? When you last spoke, did you leave them in a better mood than you found them? How could you tell?
I value the people around me who notice. It can be painful to be in a relationship where I am not noticed. I imagine you feel much the same. We want good relationships. Let’s go out and, quietly but intentionally, notice our important “others” and see what happens.