Give the gift of your attention

In the age of social media, adequately hearing, listening and responding to one another seems to be a lost art.

From our kids to our government, sometimes it feels like we're shouting and they can't even hear us

In the age of social media, adequately hearing, listening and responding to one another seems to be a lost art, Joanne Seiff writes. (Shutterstock)

I try to be a good communicator.

This starts at home. I speak over the noises of kids, dogs and my partner, and invite them to the dinner table or ask folks to clean up soon because it's bath and bed time.

As any parent will tell you, it's no shock for everyone to ignore me. Were they even listening?

But what happens when those in government aren't responsive to their constituents?

Early in fall 2018, I contacted someone in my school division for information about funding for children with special needs.

In October, I emailed the minister of education with the same questions. I received an email response from a special assistant to the Honorable Kelvin Goertzen, indicating that my questions would be brought to the attention of the minister of education and training.

In November, I emailed again, because I'd heard absolutely nothing.

I tried being patient. I thought it possible that they were trying to address the needs of the Gimli high school band kids, who wanted to know why the province would not allow their district to use its own funds to renovate their band room (which is currently unheated!) and make it more handicap-accessible.

Then, I got an official teleconference call in December, right when my household was a whirlwind of little kids, bath time antics, pyjamas and bedtime reading, often with two dogs "helping out." It's not a good time for a teleconference with the minister of finance.

Instead of waiting on the phone for my turn to ask to speak, I hung up and sent him an email. Please, Mr. Fielding, I wrote, budget more money for better special needs support in schools.

His response? I've forwarded your email to the minister of education and training.

Guess what? I've yet to receive a single answer.

In the age of social media, adequately hearing, listening and responding to one another seems to be a lost art.

How many times have you sent out an e-invite or group email or text, only to receive terse replies, or none at all? If you're like me, it happens all too often.

I've likely been guilty of some of this as well. It can be hard to keep up with the pace of our technology and communication.

I do my best to respond to emails and texts promptly, but honestly? I am sure some things may fall by the wayside by mistake.

'Raise the other hand!'

At home, I resorted to the grade school teacher trick. 

"Raise your hand if you can hear me!" I'd shout over the din.

Two kids' arms popped up as they continued playing Lego with the other hand. 

"Raise the other hand!" I'd shout. 

Both hands up in the air, the talking and barking was still so loud that no one could even hear what I said!

What's the solution? Well, it starts with those two hands. 

If both hands are up in the air, nobody can text or play. The hands indicate that they heard.

However, we still need to the next stages: listening and responding to one another.

We're hitting a time of year that's full of tumult, noise and presents. It's a dark time of year when we've theoretically got more indoor time to address things that really matter.

I know a gift that costs nothing and doesn't need wrapping. 

Try making an effort to adequately hear, listen and respond to another.

The gift of you

Start with our families, then take it further.

Have you listened to your friends and neighbours recently? What about your work colleagues?

Over there at the legislature and in the government offices, how hard would it be to work down your inbox over the next few weeks and answer some of your constituents' questions?   

Perhaps the ministers are busy reorganizing the entire provincial school system or forming the new budget. If so, please train your assistants and deputies to speak on your behalf. Far more populous places make time to do this.

Democratic government should be responsive to the people. Answering Manitobans' questions and concerns shouldn't be an afterthought. 

When the wrapping paper mess and Boxing Day sales are done, how are we gifting ourselves to others in 2019?

What about offering our time, our careful and compassionate listening, and our thoughtful responses?

It could go a long way towards mending fences in our families, our communities, our government and beyond. 

It starts with putting down your phone or Legos. 

Try attentive listening first. It's a start.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

Read more opinion pieces published by CBC Manitoba.


Joanne Seiff is the author of several books, including Knit Green, about textile sustainability. She works in Winnipeg as a freelance writer.


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