Corey’s Corner — Being kind by being there
President Barry Corey encourages students to tuck phones away and be present with those around them. | Tomber Su/THE CHIMES [file photo]
In my convocation chapel message and in my last column for The Chimes I talked about kindness and my desire for the Biola community to be characterized this year, and every year, by this sometimes forgotten Christian virtue. One practical way we can embrace kindness is by being present with one another.
Presence is the virtue of being there in times of rejoicing, in difficulties and in the mundane. The power of being there means sacrificing our calendars and to-do lists to be all-in. All-in parents. All-in friends. All-in colleagues. Even all-in strangers.
For me, this does not come naturally. I always keep lists of tasks that have to get done, boxes I cannot check if I keep stopping my work to be present in someone else’s life, especially when that person’s journey is hard.
I am naturally a scurrier, fidgety. I tend to pick up and shuffle papers, check e-mail, jot notes, fill the dog food bowl, wipe a counter, empty the trash and pluck lint — all in the middle of a conversation with Paula or our children. Yet I recognize that these conversations are half-baked when I am busy tackling my tedious tasks.
Multitasking is the curse of presence.
When Jesus was touched by a bleeding woman in the very crowded scene of Mark 5, he wanted to know who had touched him. His disciples responded, “You see the people crowding against you . . . and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’” But the story says, “Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it.” Jesus looked through the crowd to find the woman and engage her in conversation as if they were the only two people around. The disciples were too busy with Christ’s revolutionary agenda to notice the woman who had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors, spending every last cent only to get worse. But Jesus, incarnational and all-loving, gave her the gift of presence. He bypassed the crowds and spent time with this woman because of his loving-kindness. And then he called this nameless woman “daughter.”
Presence is incarnational. It is the gift of being all-in with the person or people who need us most, undistracted by our lists of tasks and by the tyranny of the urgent.
Sometimes presence means putting away our phones. Smartphones can be another curse of presence.
A 2015 Pew Research study reported that 89 percent of cellphone owners said they had used their phones during the last social gathering they attended. The same poll showed that 82 percent of these cell phone owners acknowledged that the way they used their phones in social settings hurt the conversation.
We know pulling out our phones and scrolling our Instagram feeds or e-mail inboxes is a bad thing to do when we have real, incarnational people sitting across a table from us. But we do it anyway. How can we stop this?
In a recent article in the New York Times, M.I.T. professor Sherry Turkle suggests that being present and focused with other people in our distracted age begins by practicing presence when we are alone.
“One start toward reclaiming conversation is to reclaim solitude. Some of the most crucial conversations you will ever have will be with yourself. Slow down sufficiently to make this possible. And make a practice of doing one thing at a time. Think of unitasking as the next big thing,” Turkle said. “But doing one thing at a time is hard, because it means asserting ourselves over what technology makes easy and what feels productive in the short term. Multitasking comes with its own high, but when we chase after this feeling, we pursue an illusion. Conversation is a human way to practice unitasking.”
UNITASKER OVER MULTITASKER
These are valuable insights. I want to practice solitude and reflection without an everpresent screen. I want to be a unitasker more than a multitasker. I want to be present, reflective, available to listen and love people simply by slowing down. I want to put away my phone more often than I do. It is a challenge to do this, and I know I will struggle. But next time you see me walking around campus looking down at my phone rather than looking up at you, stop me and call me out. I will do the same for you.
If we are to be a community of revolutionary kindness we must be a community of countercultural presence. We must care for each other enough to slow down, press pause, put away our phones and just be there.