attentiveness and audience

One of the most potent and formative ideas for me is ‘presencing’. It is true that there is ‘nothing new under the sun’, however sometimes people can package a set of ideas and practices in a way that increases our capacity to think and act with intelligence and wisdom. When I first read Senge, Jaworsky’s, Scharmer and Flower’s work, when it was released in 2004, the resonance with the ideas was almost like a homecoming.

Presence has many dimensions and applications, one of which is attentiveness; the art of paying deep attention to what is happening in the present. I use this in my work; in preparing for an engagement I immerse myself as much as I can in the environment of the people with whom I am working. When it comes to creating content and methodology, I get myself in a frame of mind that allows me to be totally attentive to the outcomes the client is looking for. During the workshops, all my energy is focussed on listening to the collective; gleaning spoken and unspoken messages as I attempt to help the group move together toward a better way of being and working.

But ‘paying attention’ is also a lifestyle choice. It these days of ‘noise’, being attentive to the people we are with does not feel as easy as it used to be. It requires us to ‘switch modes’ as we move from one part of our lives to another. For example, walking out of Bourke Place on Friday after 2 days on the 50th floor and meeting my 13 year old daughter to go shopping required more than a few steps.

Attentiveness and being present can also be challenging because of the journey towards self-awareness that accompanies it. I cannot think deeply about the present without examining my own motives and fears. I cannot be fixed onto the needs and desires of others without being conscious of what I am fighting within. I was thinking about these things over the weekend as I wandered back from our local bakery. I had checked in on Foursquare and as I did so had a ‘penny drop moment’.

I love the idea of social media in its various forms but have struggled to develop the habits necessary to get any substantial value from it. I realised, that for me it relates to ‘attentiveness’ and ‘audience’. Take twitter for example. I love the idea of collective wisdom and real time information. But I react against the idea that when I am doing something, or with someone, I am thinking about a broader audience. Attentiveness, presence, mindfulness or whatever word we use to describe it, is incompatible with communicating simultaneously with a broader audience. One cannot listen and speak at the same time. I’ve been at events where people are so busy tweeting, it would be impossible for them to be attentive to the actual content. It is as if the ‘idea’ of the event and the content is more valuable than the actual experience itself.

Is art good art even if nobody gets to see it? Is a poem in someone’s journal a good poem if no other living being reads it? It’s a complex question but I think the answer is ‘yes’. I sometimes worry that the proliferation of social media has created an addiction to ‘audience’ that prevents us from appreciating life for what it is, being totally present rather than feeling like we have to broadcast it to make it valid. It’s akin to celebrity, the idea that life is better or more valuable in direct proportion to how many people know about it. Rubbish.

Of course, the spreading of good stuff is a positive thing. I just wish I could access the good stuff without the dribble, which often comes from the same source. And the irony and hypocrisy is that I’ll broadcast this post.