“Pay attention” is the first rule on Dr. P.M. Forni’s “rules of considerate conduct,” and for good reason. When people are distracted or trapped in their own thoughts, they lack the awareness that civility requires. While some people are just intentionally rude, many acts of unkindness are done by those who were simply blind to their actions or the people around them.
For instance, because you weren’t paying attention you may walk to the nearest bank teller, inadvertently cutting in front of a line of people. Or you may fail to see an elderly woman struggling to open a heavy door. A lack of focus also makes it difficult to notice social cues or detect others’ emotions.
I personally feel that our technology-obsessed culture has escalated this problem. Walk down a city street and you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who isn’t chatting away on a cell phone, playing with their iPhone, or tuning everything out by listening to headphones. When we drive, we’re not focused on the road; we’re doing our makeup, listening to the radio, or making phone calls.We’re trapped in a little bubble and lose track of the human interactions surrounding us.
Facebook and Twitter have also created this “me, me, me” phenomenon in which everyone seems to be becoming more self-obsessed. The most banal activities—eating pasta for dinner, watching “Dancing with the Stars”—suddenly become “interesting” headlines as we constantly update our statuses. And with all that time spent focused on ourselves, who has any energy left to spare for other people?
It’s easy to get lost in a moment, but when we are in public settings it’s best to be vigilant and focused. Try spending a full day without hiding in a newspaper, listening to headphones, or making phone call after phone call. You’ll be amazed at what you notice!