“I heard approaching footsteps. I reached out my hand, as I supposed, to my mother. Someone took it, and I was caught up and held close in the arms of her who had come to reveal all things to me, and more than all things else, to love me” (Helen Keller, Guideposts)

The highest form of offering attention is to accept and love a person for who they are.

John Kord Lagemann relates an interesting sociology discovery: “A young sociology professor sent his class out to a Baltimore slum to interview two hundred boys and predict their chances for the future. The students, shocked by the slum conditions, predicted that about 90% of the boys they interviewed would someday serve time in prison. Twenty-five years later, the same professor assigned another class to find out how the predictions had turned out. Of one hundred and ninety of the original boys located, only four had ever been to jail. Why had the prediction been so wrong? More than a hundred of the men remembered one high-school teacher, a Miss O’Rourke, as having been an inspiration in their lives. After a long search, Sheila O’Rourke, more than seventy years old, was found. But when asked to explain her influence over her former students, she was puzzled. “All I can say,” she finally decided, “is that I loved every one of them.””

It seems that we must never underestimate the power of individual attention. People frequently mistakenly think that finding meaning in life requires making a huge contribution that impacts millions of lives. The most meaningful or lasting contributions or acts of love, however, are those that take place in seemingly insignificant, one-on-one ways when attention is given to a solitary individual. As Dr Stephen R Covey (7 Habits of Highly Effective People) notes: “When I ask audiences to identify one person who has been greatly influential in their life, typically they do not respond with a person who performed some great act of courage or excelled in a particular talent. Rather they describe people who took time out of their busy schedules to focus their attention on them as individuals – to make them feel important by including them in their life, if only for a moment.”

Of course, schoolteachers are not alone in recognising the value of attention. One of the characteristics of great leaders from a variety of contexts that always sets them apart is that, regardless of the size and nature of their organisations, they never forget the worth of the individual. They never lose sight of what even a little attention can mean to the individual.

Covey neatly wraps up these thoughts on giving individual attention to others: “To me, knowing that there are teachers who remember the worth of the ‘one’ is reassuring. Knowing that there are leaders who take time out to give individual attention is soothing. Because, each of us is ultimately a one. So, to know that there are people in the world who recognise the value of individual attention is heart-warming. We all need to be reminded from time to time that we are individually important – unique persons of worth. So, in your search for meaning, one of your first considerations might well be to pause and ask yourself, What individuals would most benefit from an increased measure of attention from me?”

Never underestimate the power of appropriate individual attention.

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