How to be Present

I’m sure you have experienced this at some point. You’re having coffee with a friend and you are talking about something that is very important to you. But then you notice something: your friend’s eyes are wondering somewhere else, taking note of every distraction in the coffeehouse, seemingly disinterested or detached from you and the conversation. 

This is a classic example of what Psychologist Daniel Goleman in his book Social Intelligence points out as “I-It” as opposed to “I-You.” This concept originated from Australian philosopher Martin Buber, who taught that I-You interactions open up an avenue for connection, while I-It social interactions result in distance rather than connection. Instead of being a pathway for empathy, I-It keeps the feelings of the individual at arms-length. For example, an I-You interaction would include you not just spending time with your friend who recently experienced a breakup, but also intently listening to your friend, being present physically, emotionally, and mentally. You are feeling what your friend is feeling. And because you are feeling what your friend is feeling, your friend knows that he or she is not alone. 

Why is this important to know? In our culture of immediate distraction and short attention spans I-It interactions are becoming increasingly commonplace, while I-You interactions are becoming more rare and abnormal. Therefore, this presents us, as Jesus followers, with a unique opportunity to be different and show genuine care for people when we talk to them. When we start interacting with people as people (I-You) rather than as objects (I-It) people will feel cared for. As followers of Jesus we want to be good representations of the culture of the Kingdom of God. Caring for people at a deeper level than what is normal for our culture can give them a taste of what the Kingdom of God is like.

So how do we do this? Here’s some pointers on how to have I-You social interactions with people.

Eliminate distraction 

A much as you can please resist looking at your phone. Looking at your phone communicates disinterest in the person as a person. 

Eye contact

This may be hard and awkward. But eye contact communicates that your attention is on the individual, rather than all the distractions going on wherever you may find yourself. 

Ask good questions

When you ask questions to go deeper in the conversation or to clarify the conversation this means that you are listening and taking an interest in what the individual is talking about. This also prevents you from turning the conversation to yourself at every opportunity.

Be present

This doesn’t just mean physically. People can tell when someone is present physically, but not much else. Therefore, be present mentally. Consciously take yourself from your shoes into the shoes of the other. 

There are probably more that can be added to this list, but I think these four are the most important.

Now, may we be men who live differently, and care for others in a unique way. May we interact with people not as objects (I-It), but rather as real people (I-You), with real stories, real hurts, and real dreams. In doing this we will give them a taste of the Kingdom of God.

David Beavis

Eating lots of food and looking at pictures of puppies are couple of ingredients to David's perfect day. The driving passion of David's life is walking alongside people as they figure out what it means to follow Jesus today. David holds a B.A. in Psychology from Vanguard University and an M.A. in Theology from Talbot School of Theology. He currently works at Mariners Church in Irvine on the High School Ministry team. He lives is Costa Mesa, California.