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Love is Paying Attention

I like awkward. Such a human emotion. Even the word itself is awkward. Who approved that spelling? It is the platypus of words. 

To me, feeling awkward means you are making an effort – maybe imperfectly – to do something outside of your comfort zone. Making such an effort is an essential part of living and growing in the world. I embrace the idea that awkward is a healthy and necessary pit-stop on the road to getting wherever you are hoping to be.

Awkward is on my mind as we embrace February. February means Valentine’s Day: the most awkward of holidays. It is tempting to just avoid Valentine’s Day and focus on February as Black History Month. But I am going to lean into the awkward here and talk about love.

The Valentine’s Day Industrial ComplexTM may have you believing that love is mostly about flowers and bears and red hearts full of chocolates. Love may well be about those things, but only to the extent that those things are expressions of our attention; only in the sense that they are a way, albeit cliched, of saying: “I see you. I value you. I love you.”

And there is a simple but powerful idea here about love: that loving someone requires that we give them our attention. We cannot claim to love someone if we don’t see them. bell hooks speaks to this idea in her book All About Love, saying that “giving generously in romantic relationships, and in all other bonds, means recognizing when the other person needs our attention. Attention is an important resource.”

This power of our attention is also a profound idea at the heart of Dr. King’s vision of Beloved Community: that building a community that embodies love for all people requires making sure that no one is left out of love; that everyone is cared for, nurtured, and supported. It means giving others our time and attention, especially those who are being excluded and left behind. It means making sure that everyone is seen.

This is also the invitation of Black History Month. Black History Month exists as an acknowledgement that in our culture and in our history and even in our present, our collective attention is lavished on some and withheld from others. So we create space and time to elevate, celebrate and honor those stories; to intentionally orient our attention. And when we do, we are creating the opportunity to see and love more fully and more deeply.  

This idea of attention – paying attention – as a way of loving is at the heart of our work: the belief that if we want to change the world – or at least our own communities – then we can and should train our attention differently. We should be asking ourselves the following questions: 

To whom are we giving our attention? Who do we overlook? Who are we not seeing? Are we willing to shift our gaze? What love and joy awaits us – individually and collectively – if we do?

Peace and love,

Phil

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