One of the most important life lessons I have learned occurred while I was watching an old interview with Toni Morrison. Morrison described how when a child enters the room and looks to see her parents, what she is searching for is to see if their faces are lighting up. Are their eyes sparkling? Do the grown-ups in the room care if she is there?
So often parents are preoccupied on their cell phones and spend too much time checking their texts and emails, worrying about the next event they have to attend, or their next deadline. If they do notice their child, it is usually to focus on her imperfections. The parents may fix their daughter’s hair or tuck in her shirt. They may believe that this is caring for their child by trying to fix her and make sure she looks “presentable.” However, the message the child receives is that she “is not good enough” the way she is.
This concept gave me an “Ah-ha moment.” I heard it when my children were babies and have always tried my best to allow my eyes to sparkle whenever they walked into a room. Sometimes I still try to consciously stop myself from “fixing them” and just allow my face to light up as I take in their incredible presences. I have also expanded this concept to apply to not just what children crave but what everybody craves. Whether it is the cashier at the grocery store, our colleagues at work or our partner greeting us at the end of a long day, we all long to know that we are seen, appreciated and that we matter.
Maya Angelou expanded upon this topic by describing that there are four questions that we are unconsciously asking each other all of the time. The four questions are:
- Do you see me?
- Do you care that I am here?
- Am I enough for you, or do you need me to be better in some way?
- Can I tell that I am special to you by the way that you look at me?
Although these questions are rarely vocalized out loud, and are often unconscious, when the silent answer is YES, people feel appreciated and loved. Whether it is your children, your colleagues, your partner or anyone in your community who truly feels valued by you, it is because you have answered these four questions in an affirmative way.
One of the reasons that dogs are so universally loved is because they answer these four questions consistently with a Big YES! Dogs are creatures that frequently live in the present moment. Humans sometimes fail in this arena. What that looks like is often disconnection. In my practice I hear people expressing dissatisfaction and feeling isolated.
They often say: “He didn’t even look up from his computer when I walked into the room.”
“She’s looking at me but it’s like she’s looking past me”
“I know he loves me but he’s just so checked out. Sometimes I want to shake him.”
How do we change this phenomenon?
We take an extra second to actually look at the other person. We allow our eyes to sparkle as we smile. We truly connect. Connection is not based on the amount of time we spend with someone but instead, it is the quality of our presence. Being present does not require meditation, deep breaths or any mantra. It is simply a decision “Ok, I am going to be present now.” ”In this second I will smile with my eyes and truly listen to what the other person is saying. I will do my best to communicate that I am happy that the other person is here .” This does not need to be communicated in words but instead can be shown nonverbally on your face, in your touch, with your eyes and with the quality of your presence.