The Power of Presence

Jann FreedLeading, Learning Leave a Comment

For the past few weeks, I have been sharing my thoughts about the growing “disease” of social isolation and how important it is for leaders to build community.  I shared research by Sheryl Turkle who has written two books and a TED talk on how technology is harming our ability to have conversations.  Turkle says we need to work at “reclaiming conversation.”  Then recently, I heard Adam Alter interviewed about his new book Irresistible:  The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked.  As a professor of psychology and marketing at NYU, Alter shares his research about the addiction of technology and how we have to work at creating time for personal interaction and conversation which help in building relationships and community.

As I have mentioned in the past, I am in a faith-based social justice class that has been meeting weekly since September and is coming to a close in April.  The focus of the class is not only to learn about social justice issues, but to take action and do something about it.  We have talked about the local homeless issue and what to do about the growing number of people standing on street corners.

At Rotary, we had a speaker from JOPPA, a local NFP organization who helps people who are in between shelters (because you can’t stay at a homeless shelter forever).  He said to not give people on street corners money because you might be feeding a habit.  He said to give them small items they can use immediately.  So rather than give people money because you are not sure what they are going to do with it, I shared in the class that someone who works in my husband’s firm hands out a baggie with small size items such as:  toothbrush, toothpaste, hand sanitizer, and a granola bar.  For my class, we have to do a project and this is what I am going to do in the next week.  I will report back on how well it worked.

Then I read this very relevant article about how Pope Francis feels about this subject and he says to “give without worry” and you can read it here.

With the growing social isolation, the addiction of technology, and the lack of community, I have been thinking about an African phrase and tradition.  Among the tribes in Northern Natal in South Africa, the tribes greet each other with “Sawu bona” which translates to “hello” in English.  The phrase “Sawu bona” literally is defined as “I see you.”  To learn more about this, go to this website.  If you are a member of the tribe you would reply, “Sikhona” or in English it is the same as responding “I am here.”  Basically, you don’t exist until someone “sees you.”

I had shared before that we should all pretend everyone has an imaginary sign around their neck that says:  Make me feel important.

If we really “saw people” and made them feel important, we would have a jump start on building community and creating organizations where people want to work.

Pope Francis (and I am a big fan of the Pope) said “the way of giving is as important as the gift. You should not simply drop a bill into a cup and walk away. You must stop, look the person in the eyes, and touch his or her hands.”  In other words, you must “see them.”

I plan to do this as I hand out my baggies this week.  As I do this, I will be thinking of “Sawu bona,” the imaginary sign, and Pope Francis.  I will let you know how it goes.  It is not easy to do all of this when technology is so addictive that many of us would rather text than talk.

Do you really “see” the people with whom you live and work?

Do they feel important in your presence?

What could you do to make them feel more important?

NOTE:  I am interested in feedback from my first podcast for the series Becoming a Sage that was distributed last Friday, March 10.  I interviewed Gregg Levoy on the power of purpose and passion.  Thanks in advance for letting me know what you think since it is a new work-in-progress.