Being the editor of a newspaper gives me the distinct privilege of having my foibles on display in black and white five days a week.
I say privileged because few people have their mistakes pointed out to them by friends and strangers alike on a daily basis.
If one is inclined to feel superior, one soon learns humility in this business.
This week I have been the lucky recipient of several emails and phone calls asking me when the “flood plane” is taking off and pointing out that 62 percent and 48 percent actually add up to 110 percent. It is fruitless to say that I really do know the difference between plane and plain and that I have a working knowledge of mathematics. Evidence to the contrary has already gone to press.
The question is, “If you know these things, then how could this have happened?”
Leaving the actual numbers out of it, I imagine that a very high percentage of people have never worked in the publishing industry. When any of these people pick up a book or a newspaper with eyes that have not been staring at a page for hours on end, errors stand out like goats on a basketball court.
Sometimes those errors aren’t so apparent when your eyes are beginning to cross from looking at so much print, the phone is ringing, someone is calling for an ambulance on the scanner, deadline was 15 minutes ago, and you still have another story to write.
What it really comes down to is not paying attention.
I am glad when people remind me to pay attention because paying attention, in my opinion, is essential to a successful and happy life.
It is easy to get distracted in this world. We are surrounded by televisions, radios, computers and people who like to rattle on and on about nothing in particular.
“Multi-tasking” – something that requires the opposite of concentration - is a requirement for many jobs.
The fact is, when you split your attention between 12 things at once, you use a lot of energy and you don’t really do any of those things justice.
Meanwhile, the whole world goes by unnoticed. Trees blossom, people smile at you, and your children become adults. Inevitably, you wake up one morning and you can’t remember what you were doing that was so important that you forgot was spring, when and why you stopped having any close friends, or how your son managed to learn to drive.
And if you do not have a loyal group of readers who notice your words and are ready to tease you about your latest grammatical catastrophe, you may have made all sorts of mistakes you won’t even realize you’ve made until you lose your job or your husband runs away with a circus acrobat.
Recently I was talking with some girlfriends about relationships and an interesting thing came to light. As each of us analyzed what we wanted from friends and significant others, one thing stood out: most of all we wanted.
If you were a painter and you chose just the right colors and applied them with loving brush strokes until you had made a masterpiece, would it mean very much if no one took the time to look at it? If you got a new haircut, or gave someone a smile, or put a bouquet of daffodils in a vase on the dining room table, or changed the oil in the car, or built a perfectly leveled shelf, would it seem like a wasted effort if someone didn’t see what you had done?
If you had created a minutely detailed world with billions of amazing individuals, an ever-changing sky, flowers that bloom and colorful birds that flutter among the green leaves, wouldn’t you want everyone to take note of it?
It is a gift when someone pays attention. The least a person can do is pay attention in return.
Paying attention is a practice – especially in a world where we are encouraged not to do so. It requires vigilant effort. It requires you to pause, take a breath, and consider where you are and what you’re doing every moment of every day.
If you have been staring at a page for hours upon hours and you would rather think about what you are going to do when you finally get out of the office or who you would tell first if you won the lottery, paying attention can be very difficult.
But even though it is hard, the best thing to do is re-focus your eyes and remember that even when you are not paying attention, someone else is.