Pay Attention, You Just Might Save a Life.

Don’t take your senses for granted.

Server: “Why doesn’t Helen Keller have a driver’s license?”

Sushi Chef: “Who is Hellen Keller?”

The server is undeterred; He tries again with a busboy, “Why can’t Helen Keller drive a car?”

Busboy: “Who’s Hellen Keller.

Hellen Keller was a successful author, lecturer, and activist. She helped found the ACLU and was an influential fundraiser. Ms. Keller was well respected, even earning a presidential medal of freedom. There are two reasons why she can’t drive. She died in 1968, and she could not see or hear.

It might not be possible to drive a car without the ability to hear or see, but a person without these powers can still live a fulfilling life. As a young child, Hellen Keller communicated with her family, do chores and even play pranks. In adulthood, she earned a degree from Radcliffe and became an influential advocate for the disabled and other marginalized groups. Ms. Keller was famous on the lecture circuit despite having trouble speaking and, even dabbled in acting. She could not go places without a guide, but she did travel to many places.

Most people reading this can probably see and hear just fine, but we cannot use these abilities to total capacity in most situations. Sometimes people look in the refrigerator and don’t locate what they are looking for, while other household members find it easily.

A crime may have occurred on the street you live on or maybe even a building where you work. If you are like most people, you probably know very little about this crime even though it may have happened at a time and place when you could have easily seen it. The common perception among many people is that if something dramatic happened in front of 30 people, then at least 27 of them must have seen it. In reality, probably only 9 of them will notice anything. Probably only three will notice any details. The tendency to miss events was confirmed in a study called You Do Not Talk About Fight Club if You Do Not Notice Fight Club.

When my son Brandon was a toddler, we lived next door to a large family with six children and at least two grandchildren. The driveway separating the two houses was very narrow. One fine summer day, all the children were out playing in the back. The yard was small, so some of them were playing on the back porch. The children next door ranged in age from 3 to about 15. There are inherent difficulties in properly supervising seven children. The human eye can see seven children playing at once, and no doubt daycare center workers and teachers can keep track of 30 or more children at one time, but for a teenager, it can be a lot to handle mentally. Her eyes have to see what each of the children is doing, and her brain also must process it and decide if it is inappropriate or dangerous. I wasn’t worried about that because Brandon was still an only child I could watch him easily.

Suddenly, Brandon’s facial expression changed from wide-eyed wonder to wide-eyed terror. Nothing was wrong with him. When I followed his eyes, I was that one of the children next door was attempting to do some stunt on his big wheel and was about to come crashing down from the back porch to the concrete driveway. I ran over and caught him before he fell and busted his head open. His 15-year-old sister was highly releived. She likely would have been in serious trouble had her little brother injured himself. If I hadn’t been paying attention to Brandon’s facial expression and Brandon hadn’t been paying attention to the children’s activities next door, that boy could have suffered a permanent injury.

Taking in an accurate view of your surroundings can not only protect you and your neighbors from danger but alert you to beauty and opportunities all around you. Paying attention to one’s neighborhood is how people find jobs, realize business opportunities, and get free stuff. Your community may have a bad reputation. Places with bad reputations can change. Paying attention to details like reading signs and flyers can help you network with people who are working to make improvements. Observing the world around you is just as crucial as eating, sleeping, and exercising. Like health, observational skills should not be taken for granted. If you take full advantage of your senses, it will be more difficult for people to lie to you. So how do you improve your observational skills? Like anything else, it requires training. To see, hear and feel more effectively, you need to make a conscious effort to do so.

Making full use of your senses can also help you in your career. It doesn’t matter if it's a restaurant, office or construction site keen observation can you work more efficiently and avoid injuries.

Our sight uses more of our brainpower than any other sense. Improving visual perception can have a profound effect on one’s life. If you are a fan of Detective novels and shows, you should know that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle based the famous character Sherlock Holmes on an actual person who could tell all sorts of things about people just by looking at them. These skills can be developed simply by practicing.

Try bird watching or learn to identify trees, herbs, or insects. The skills you develop in training yourself to tell one bird from another will help you observe people and situations in more detail.

Studying art is a proven method of sharpening visual perception skills. Art is perfect for practice because you can check your answers and track your progress. Try getting a book about art. First, look at the pictures. Next, analyze and write down what you see. Then read the text to see what you got right.

You can also take a walk down a street you usually drive on to see how many new things you see. Learning to perceive things accurately can also involve adopting a childlike way of looking at things trying to see things just as they are without preconceptions. Another way to sharpen those skills is by looking at optical illusions. One can find books on optical illusions in the children’s section.

We know sight is crucial because we have two eyes. We also have two ears, so good listening skills are essential too. Looking at art might help you see but listening to music is a delicate balance. Learning to sing or play an instrument will improve one’s hearing, but loud music can also damage it. One of the most beneficial ways to practice listening is through conversation. Often when speaking to others, we can be so caught up in what we want to say that we don’t pay full attention to what the others say. If we practice active listening, we can get to know people on a deeper level and learn new things about them. We often don’t realize how much we don’t know about a person we interact with regularly. It’s easy to check and see if you are understanding a person correctly. Just try paraphrasing what you think they just said.

Try saying, “So what you're saying is ________ Is that right?” in a sincere inquisitive manner.

If you often speak to a person who doesn’t talk much, you can try asking open-ended questions like “What do you think?” if the reply doesn’t make sense. There is no need to explain your position again. You can ask a follow-up question try, “How did you reach that conclusion?” Then, the most step is to pause and listen to the response. If the answer is still inadequate, say.” I don’t get it. Can you explain in a little more detail?” If you start practicing listening more, you will likely find yourself asking, “Why didn’t you tell me?” a lot less often.

Helen Keller was able to function as a productive member of her family, but she was a problematic child. She had frequent tantrums driven by the frustration of not being able to communicate fully. When she became educated and started learning the words for different concepts, the frustration melted away. Listening carefully to how other people speak can help you communicate your ideas more effectively. Better communication often results in less stress.

Meditation can also deepen listening skills. Try sitting very still and see if you can hear your heartbeat. You might not be successful, but you will undoubtedly hear something you never noticed before.

Keen observation is what inspires inventors to create new products. Noticing injustice is what compels activists to fight for a better world. Clear communication is the foundation of a healthy, loving relationship. Everything you need to be successful exists. Don’t miss out. Pay attention.

Herman, Amy. Visual Intelligence: Sharpen Your Perception, Change Your Life. Boston, Mariner Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017.

Keller, Hellen. The Story of My Life. 1902. edited by John Macy, 21st ed., USA, Dell, 1977.

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