Being There was Peter Seller’s last film.
Chance, the character he played, rose to fame in a day through a few carefully worded gardening analogies. While he admitted he couldn’t read or write and that he only likes to watch television, he wound up in a private audience with the president.
His best strength was his presence; he stood silent as others built him up.
It is considered a cinematic sibling of Forest Gump.
Gump also rose to fame through a simplicity of being. He accomplishes amazing things just by being present. His simplicity allows him to see the bigger, more powerful aspects of life that others don’t. He saves soldiers, feels like running, and invests in the “fruit company” Apple Computers. Like Chance, he has divine authority, surviving a hurricane in a skiff.
The importance of presence is in many traditions.
If you read the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu, you’d think it a western concept. The Taoist manual is filled with paradoxes that claim doing less is more.
Tao Te Ching Verse 43 (Jonathan Star translation)
The most yielding thing in the world
will overcome the most rigid
The most empty thing in the world
will overcome the most full
From this comes a lesson—
stillness benefits more than action
silence benefits more than words
There is great power in being non-judgemental. Great power in abandoning presumption, and pretense. It allows you to be there for someone. It gives weight to the cliché, “I’m here for you.”
This principle also occurs in the iconic American social manifesto How to Win Friends and Influence People. Dale Carnegie described that he remained quiet while listening to a botanist describe a long list of exotic plants, only to be thought of as “a most interesting conversationalist.”
Just listen to what someone has to say, and it’s likely they will find you fascinating. You become a reflection of what people want to see in themselves.
Here’s why I’m writing this. I’m not good at listening to my wife. I’m probably not good at listening in general, but my wife is the one who lets me know it. Maybe it’s just in my nature as a writer. I’m constantly placing internal observations ahead of external reality.
But lately, my wife has intervened on my not being there enough for me to reflect.
It’s hard to recollect when you’re not paying attention because, after all, you’re not paying attention. So I asked her: “Babe could you give me a list of some things I’ve missed when you’re talking to me?”
“Why don’t you use that time you walked out in the middle of our conversation.”
I nod with confidence. “After your windshield broke.”
Her posture straightens. “No, Mark. It wasn’t my windshield. It was my passenger window. And it smashed while I was going 70.” I’m not helping my cause here. “No, not that. I’m referring to two weeks ago when I told you about my job.”
Two weeks earlier.
We were in the kitchen. and she was saying, “So Denise wants me to supervise these therapists on my first day in there. I’m not sure that
The words fade as I go to the bathroom sink to spit. I come back in the room scrolling down on my phone, “I wonder why no one visited my blog today.”
“Are you serious?”
“You walk out in the middle a conversation?”
“I was listening the whole time! I just went into the bathroom because I had to spit and didn’t want to do it in front of you.”
“If you were listening, then why barge back in the kitchen and start a new conversation?”
Truly being there is hard.
It’s an exercise in mindfulness. Modern life is a maze of notification pings, pop-up ads and attention-diverting media. What matters more; the fact that a Facebook friend liked the nice-pic-comment I offered on someone’s photo, or being a willing participant as a husband?
The power of presence is palpable for anyone who’s needed a listening ear, or a shoulder to cry on.
Truly being there is not just existing. It is the willingness to share your existence with others. Existing next to somebody is not the same as being willing to exist for somebody. It’s like the difference between listening and hearing.
I’m working on it.
Tao Te Ching Verse 47 (cont’d)
Rare indeed are those who are still
Rare indeed are those who are silent
And so I say,
Rare indeed are those
Who obtain the bounty of this world.