Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Too poor to even pay heed

Kim, in the eponymous (now there's a word one doesn't get to use every day) book by Kipling, begins his training in the Great Game with a humiliating defeat in the art of noticing things. He can't even remember the contents of a tray of household objects as well as the jeweler's apprentice. But with a little practice he has mastered this essential skill for a spy.

Or for anyone else. Noticing things and remembering them is largely a matter of education; and vice versa, education mostly consists of noticing things and remembering them. Learning styles may influence how easily you pick up a certain type of noticing, but the real clincher is practice. Through long practice editing, I can't skim anything in print without one eye out for misspellings and those loathsome misplaced apostrophes. But ask me to describe a car that just drove by, and I might be able to tell you its color--even though that's a visual skill, too. DOB, on the other hand, will rattle off its make, model, year, and a close estimate at the mental abilities of the driver.

I used to blame the things I didn't pay attention to on innate ability. I'm not an auditory learner--so don't expect me to listen to what you're saying. I'm not good at spatial perception--so don't expect me to avoid your car in the parking lot. But I've learned that I can learn. I can learn how to notice which muscle movements shoot the ping-pong ball back at my opponent and which send it careening into the shelves. I can learn to focus my mind on a speech and not spend the time composing my own thoughts on the subject.

The reason I'm working harder at paying attention is not just to make my own life easier. I want to be able to teach my children to devote their whole attention to something, as a matter of choice, not just of ability or interest. That means I have to learn it first.

So I'm working on what is perhaps the hardest for me: listening. I've set myself the challenge of actually listening to the sermon every Sunday, recounting in the car all the main points and any particularly noteworthy illustrations without notes. It's hard work, because I'm not used to it. You would think it would be the children who make it hard, but it's not--just my own bad habit of being more interested in my own thoughts than in what I'm hearing.

Maybe once I master this, I'll learn how to notice how close my shins are to the dishwasher.

1 comment:

Rose said...

Wow, that's pretty good. I never thought of paying attention as something you could train yourself to do. And I'm delighted to hear that someone other than myself has difficulty paying attention to the sermons, not through heresy or irreverence but simply through hyperactive mind-wandering. I will now make a concerted effort to notice things and see if I can start to develop a new character quality of alertness.