Attention

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My mother grew up in a big family of ten people. It was almost a foregone conclusion that having that many individuals crowded into a very small house would end up being raucous. They each learned how to talk with loud booming voices just to be heard. Whenever they got together it was almost impossible for anyone to get in a word without screaming. Since I was born with a very soft way of speaking I learned very early to just listen to the cacophony of voices when I visited with my extended family. There were times when I felt like a fly on the wall as I observed the loud conversations. I suppose that I first began to develop my observational skills with that wild and rowdy group because it was easier to watch and learn from them than to enter the fray. 

It is not in my nature to attempt to talk over people because I am rarely successful in gaining their attention that way. As a teacher I developed a methodology that mostly worked. When my students became too loud I would stand quietly before them staring with a stern expression on my face until they quieted down. Somehow it always worked so I never had to decide what I would do if they just kept chattering. I suppose that I could have forced myself to yell at them, but I never cared much for that when I was a student, so I did not want to inflict a strident voice on them when I was their teacher. 

When I am out and about I tend to be someone that nobody notices. Sometimes that is to my advantage, but there have been times when I was attempting to get waited on by a clerk and I felt as though I must surely be invisible as other people pushed in front of me as though I was not even there. Even if I mumbled in dismay nobody seemed to care that I had been ignored. 

When I visited London a couple of years ago it was the first time in my life that I did not need to assert myself to get help or have a question answered. In fact, the people were so polite and deferential that I was initially stunned. I felt that somehow I had finally found a place where my quiet ways were actually appreciated. 

Some of my friends have encountered my rowdy family and felt overwhelmed by their exuberance. I suppose that I adapted to them long ago and find no particular need to push myself into their tumultuous discussions. I usually find a kindred spirit who is sitting off to the side with whom I manage to have a wonderfully uplifting conversation. I know that the rest of the crew does not mean anything insulting about their head-splitting noisiness. It is simply the way they grew up. They celebrate life with gusto and voices that would wake the dead. 

I actually have fun sitting in the midst of them and listening to their interactions. I know that if I needed help any one of them would come to my aid and they would be able to garner the attention that it is sometimes difficult for me to gain. In truth I prefer not being the center of attention. I can’t imagine being so famous that I would never be able to escape the limelight. There is something rather comforting about being able to stroll quietly and unobserved through life. I am able to see so much more than if I were always engaged in conversation. Watching the world is exciting. 

As a teacher I found that the most egregious attention seekers were usually the ones who felt the most insecure. They were often hiding hurts and abuse and sorrows. Bullies tended to be the worst. They seemed to be trying to prove something to themselves and by extension to everyone around them. They were constantly in need of reassurances that they thought they were getting by being the overbearing center of the classroom. On the other hand, some of the quietest students that I encountered were pillars of strength who were so confident that they had no need to force others to notice them. They possessed a kind of dignity that told me that they did not need the limelight, but somehow they often ended up there because people were drawn to them. 

My family members were loud, including my mother, but always very kind and thoughtful. The exception in the terms of the way he spoke was my Uncle William who was the eldest of the siblings, the patriarch of the family if you will. I have never met a stronger more compassionate human and yet at first sight he appeared to be rather ordinary because he was exceedingly quiet. He was so sweet and accommodating that one might have viewed him as a pushover, but nothing was further from the truth. He was a rock on whom everyone of his siblings depended for wisdom and strength. With a single comment expressed in a low but commanding voice he was always able to calm them. His power always amazed me. 

These days we seem to equate authority with rudeness and hurtful commentaries. Instead, the strong among us cannot be measured by the decibel of their voices or the insults that they hurl. Standing up for what is right and demonstrating kindness is a much better sign of greatness than being dominating and frightening. Kindness ultimately gets attention faster than being a boor. Just watch quietly and you will soon learn who to trust. Often the sidelines are the very best place to be. Just pay attention and you will see.