A Gap – in the Marketplace of Attention

The Dream

I was an instructor trying to get the attention of  young college students who were all over the map, some starting to eat their lunch before class had ended, going out into halls and laughing with friends, and texting already as if lunchtime had already started. Other teachers were also wandering into the room before our class had even finished so there was pandemonium. I was trying to rally their attention for a few more minutes to tell them something REALLY IMPORTANT.  SOMETHING I HAD JUST DISCOVERED IN OUR THEATRE RESEARCH AFTER YEARS OF LOOKING.

I looked around at all this chaos thinking of the irony that they even needed to remember that it was important to focus on the last few minutes of a class or anything else for the sheer fact that you never knew when something extremely important, paradigm shifting, was going to happen.  Why assume that things needn’t be fully completed whether these ‘things’ were classes, sentences, or relationships ? I thought of great singers who seemed to never end the song and would slide into home plate after a home run in slow motion, recalling eternity. In the dream there were few great singers present.

I must have been dealing with this whole idea of how you tell people something important, to you at least, when they have so so many distractions competing for their attention.  I remember wrestling with the idea of whether to tell them about the idea of a ‘key word’ for example, say the word  ‘GERONIMO’ and the idea that when someone says this word, they REALLY  want to get the group’s attention to say something serious.

Sometimes a therapist  in a group situation will say out loud a word agreed upon with a particular individual that  tends to get out of control or ‘over contributes’ and hence takes up an extraordinary amount of time or space in the group.  This key word is an ‘invitation, perhaps a warning’ that in the opinion of the therapist that individual is going into this over indulgent space and can pause and reconsider  whether they really need to go there.

Our own names cut through everything when they are said loudly at a cocktail party lets say – everything stops momentarily and people focus. A loud single note on a piano stops our collective  attention for a moment.  A spoon hitting a glass at a wedding.   The trouble with emergency words or sounds  is that   they can soon lose their ’emergency’ status.  (the boy who cries WOLF too many times).

Back in the dream, other teachers were entering the classroom even before my class had finished and I had the strong sense that they, even more than the students,  had had years of contending with this reality of no one really listening to them or not listening at key moments,  and that they were not about to hear ME get serious and insist on everyone’s attention.   They would have no patience with it.  It would seem like an indulgence no one had time for in this kind of chaos.

Just a now thought –  so many movies now days are actually  based on this idea – how to say things to get everyone’s fleeting attention.  The old shock and awe technique.  But it can quickly lose its effectiveness.  We can be so used to getting shocked that we don’t respond any longer to shocks.  It becomes the norm.  We obviously have to develop other methods for getting people’s attention, other than over stimulation and the creation of shocks.  Stroboscopic images try to do both, over stimulate and shock our systems, to get our attention.  Sometimes things whispered will get our attention.  Whispering in a noisy crowd is a kind of reverse psychology saying “maybe if I go completely in the opposite direction, this will work to get their attention”

So in my dream, I heard myself say to myself, “just for now at least, tell it to me, I will listen.  They are actually listening too but to a thousand other things that were also extremely important to you at one point.  Don’t worry about it.  On one level it’s none of your business, how busy their minds are.  They could all be working on Unified Field Theories and don’t need the interruption.  There might be another moment, sometime, down the road to share your insight.  Who knows?  It may prove to be ‘insightful’ to you alone, even AFTER you’ve shared it.   Swallow this one, breathe and get back to whatever makes you full, full with a little room at the top of the cup for cream.”

As a friend of mine once said, someone who had managed big projects, “I learned bit by bit to ‘point but not carry’, indicate a direction, an idea, but not to take people on my back to get them over the finishing line. And   believe me, as I was learning this ‘point but don’t carry’ rule, I developed legs like a mule and a spine bent into the letter C”.

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