THE GIFT OF ATTENTION

December 2019

Last month, my godmother Rachael responded to my One Small Thing email with the insight that she appreciated receiving my notes because they were like paper children: conceived, nurtured, and sent out into the world. I loved this visual analogy because both “birthing” a child and writing an insightful note require me to be willing to reach down deep inside to think and to feel before I launch something into the world. Being a parent/mentor and writing One Small Thing forces me to see myself, and then see you as you respond to me.

When I get responses from you, it’s a most precious gift. The gift of attention.

In this season of giving, as well as all year round, there are very few gifts that I treasure as much. It’s amazing how far the gift of attention — the gift of truly “seeing” someone and really “being seen” — can go.

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Jordan Manfredi, a spunky young woman who reached out to me blindly and offered to help me launch Parlay House in NYC, told me about a time when we were in the midst of hosting one of our New York events when I saw her across the room, nodded and smiled. It was a secret language that said, “I see you and I value what we are doing together.” That acknowledgment, according to her, carried her for months.

Vicky Tsai, the powerful founder of the Tatcha beauty brand, told me a story that I feature in my new book, The Parlay Effect, about how an encounter with a taxi driver in Kyoto taught her that every interaction is a gift.  The driver’s attentive listening to the journey she was on, and the unexpected personal gift he delivered to her of his own photography, ended up setting the stage for the culture of her company.

Tamsin Smith, an artist, poet, and a dear friend, observed that this process of seeing and being seen is the essence of what we do at Parlay House.  “So many little conversations from Parlay House events live on. One that comes to mind was a casual hello from a woman I hadn’t met during the event when I was on my way out the door. She told me she didn’t know anyone when she arrived but had made new friends. I asked her what brought her to the gathering in the first place, and she said, “The power of yes.” Wow. Yes.”

These observations – about cascades of seeing, including, and saying “yes,” were what led me to reach out to Dr. Serena Chen at the University of California, Berkeley, and do the research presented in my book. I wanted to know how this cascade of “seeing others” unfolded into the world. One of the many things we learned in our research together was that the power of “seeing” someone was a gift that everyone, regardless of age, experience, social status, or wealth, had the power to give, and that it was a gift that cascaded outwards — not linearly but exponentially, from the giver to the receiver and then to the next recipient. It’s a new model of giving that lets go of monetary value and the need for “transaction,” and replaces it with our individual ability to pass something of great meaning on to someone else. Best of all was learning that these cascades are not only continued by the recipient but replicated by those who witness the process.

So this season, as we face the holiday tension and the question of “Is this gift enough?,” my One Small Thing would be to reframe it with the affirmation that “I am enough” — and then know that “seeing” someone else is one of the greatest gifts you can give. You are enough because you have the ability to give the gifts of interaction, of inclusion, and of seeing.

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We hope you will share these gifts, which are a way of putting in motion what I call The Parlay Effect. In fact, I’m going to call this communications series The Parlay Effect from now on.

If this rings true for you,

Share it Small:

See someone in a way that lets them know they are seen. It may be a wink and a nod across the holiday table. Or taking a walk with someone who recoils at large family events but might feel lonely doing nothing. Or an easy “give” is to pack up some of your holiday leftovers for a few folks around you who might be hungry – not only for food but for attention. Hungry to be truly seen and cared about.

Share it Big:

Be open about your efforts to see others. Our research shows that people who witness these acts of empathy and acknowledgment tend to replicate it themselves. It might actually be a better-than-usual use for social media – sharing positive actions that cascade outward in The Parlay Effect.

Share it with me:

Reach out to me at anne@parlayhouse.com to tell me your own stories of seeing and being seen. Your experiences and examples become the fuel for others. And that’s what keeps the fire burning.