This Christmas, give the gift of your attention

December 18, 2010|By MEG H. PARTINGTON |
  • Meg H. Partington
Meg H. Partington

The holiday season puts all of us into sensory overload.

Everywhere you turn, there are bright, blinking lights, tasty morsels to sample and a host of spicy, piney smells.
Our ears are inundated with Christmas carols in stores even before Thanksgiving. Radio and television advertisements use variations of Santa’s low but loud voice to tell you what businesses are selling the must-have gifts for your spouse, child or mother-in-law.

But do we really HEAR all of those harmonies and those deals being touted? Are we really listening?

The absorption (or lack thereof) of what is spoken is a constant source of contention in my household.

I often get frustrated by what I consider to be my husband’s listening deficiencies. He says that I utter far more words in a day than he does, and therefore give him far more material to process than he gives to me.

I admit, he’s right about that. I’m a chatterbox, while he’s a man of few words.


I sometimes interpret his lack of hearing what I’m saying as a sign of disinterest. That’s not always the case, but it sure gives me something about which to stew.

I know this issue isn’t unique to us and that gives me some solace. In fact, I think our world is bursting with people screaming to be heard.

Through my work at The Herald-Mail Co., I have been introduced to social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. In those cyberworlds, I have found countless examples of people desperate for everyone to know the minutiae of their lives.

I love my friends and family dearly, but I really don’t need to know what they’re making for dinner or what adorable feat their precious pup has recently mastered.

I admit, however, that I enjoy reading the insights I find, particularly on Facebook, from people on my “friend” list. Sometimes I find links to news stories or features that I might not have heard about otherwise and other times, I get some fun food for thought.

Still, there are some old-fashioned ways of communicating that have stood the test of time and will live on long after Tweeting is an archaic concept. Like sitting down with someone, making eye contact and talking.

On Black Friday (Nov. 26), The Herald ran a story on page B2 by The Associated Press about that day being designated, since 2008, as the National Day of Listening by StoryCorps, a national oral-history project.

Since families often gather from all around for Thanksgiving and the days surrounding that holiday, StoryCorps considers it a perfect time to ask loved ones to share their life stories. Ultimately, the organization suggests recording those stories of achievements, childhood games, war stories, joys and sorrows.

The Brooklyn, N.Y.-based StoryCorps has recorded oral histories of 60,000 ordinary Americans, most of which are on file at the Library of Congress, according to the AP story.

Barbara Dundon, executive director of Need in Deed, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that helped sponsor the National Day of Listening in that area, told the AP that “most people are so grateful to be listened to.”

In a world of 24-hour everything, where words constantly flow from countless sources, I fear we’re losing sight of the art of meaningful conversation. The fact that people are seemingly telling all to an audience of strangers makes me think they’re not being heard by the people who matter most.
If you’re struggling with gift ideas for a loved one or special friend this holiday
season, how about giving him or her your full attention? It’s a one-size-fits-all, heartfelt present that no store-bought — even handmade — item can top.

Give it a try, you hear?

Meg H. Partington is assistant city editor of The Herald-Mail Co. She can be reached Sunday through Tuesday at 301-733-5131, ext. 6997, or by e-mail at You can follow her on Twitter at MegtheTypeA, though she isn’t yet an avid Tweeter.

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