• April 18, 2014

Taking time to engage people yields rewards

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Posted: Friday, January 18, 2013 4:30 am | Updated: 2:58 pm, Tue Aug 6, 2013.

There’s a photo circulating on social media depicting a pile of cellphones sitting on a restaurant table. The text suggests that folks talk to the people they’re sharing a meal with. The idea is to engage.

If you’re like me, your cellphone is a constant companion, a can’t-live-without-it necessity. In my home office, two computers are almost always in use, and there’s a third on stand-by.

I’m typically engaged in more than one conversation at any given time across multiple platforms and usually to the beat of music streaming from (you guessed it) my cellphone.

But magic happens when I put it all away, and interact with the person in front of me. The man who hands me my cups of coffee from my favorite morning stop – he recognizes me now, and we exchange small pleasantries.

There is no text message or Facebook notification that’s more important in that moment than thanking him, encouraging him not to work too hard (I know he works two jobs), and to have a great day.

The woman behind me in line at the grocery store needed someone to hear her story. She was sick and in the process of moving, and couldn’t get the help she needed. She didn’t want me to have solutions for her; she just needed to be heard. My phone stayed in my purse.

I made a new friend while volunteering serving a Thanksgiving meal last year. All technology was far removed at that moment.

A young man on an airplane was so full of passion about his inner belief system that he was nearly bursting with excitement. My book became dull; we engaged.

The time I spent in municipal court wasn’t wasted, because the person who sat two chairs from me struck up a conversation and we conversed while we waited. We found out we knew some of the same people and had similar interests.

Sometimes it’s as simple as a smile, holding the door open for someone, waving at the driver who lets you into traffic. Sometimes the small moments are bigger than you’d expect.

If I’m willing to silence distractions for the sake of a stranger, I must be more willing to do the same for my friends and family.

Coffee breaks, lunches, dinners, weekend get-togethers ... the people who I care the most about deserve to have my complete attention — and if a phone call, text message, or email does need a few minutes of my time, I will kindly excuse myself from the room.

It’s funny how this works, because as I’m willing to engage (even with people I don’t know), I’m being rewarded.

It’s comforting to be greeted with familiarity by the man who hands me my coffee.

I gained a new friend by engaging in a volunteer effort.

The young man on the airplane challenged my own belief structure and gave me food for thought.

The individual in municipal court inspired me and helped me connect with other people.

The people who smile back, say “thank you” when I hold open the door, or wave in traffic, are giving something back to me.

So, I challenge you to silence your phone at the next family dinner, to put it away when you’re hanging out with your friends, to close your laptop when a colleague approaches, to hold the door open, say “hello” to someone you don’t know, and engage.

It’s really not that scary.

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