If you’ve flown on a commercial airline in the last couple of decades, you’ve heard these words: “May I have your attention, please?”

For many passengers, the answer appears to be “No.”

Newer flyers usually do pay attention. Those who have flown often, like me, watch to see how well the flight attendant performs the unenviable task of the safety briefing. Road warriors don’t even look up.

The airlines know all that. Sometimes they add, “Even if you fly frequently…” for those of us who give less attention to the flight attendant than we should. Over the years I’ve seen the airlines try a number of things to get us to pay attention. They’ve used videos (some very well done), they’ve used humor (Southwest, primarily), and they have been very serious.

I have yet to see an airline use a Catholic nun carrying a wooden ruler, but I’m thinking that might help.

Why do they ask for your attention? Because without you giving it, you are highly unlikely to remember anything about safety.

Attention is a fundamental element in remembering things, from the main point of a sermon to the name of that person you met five minutes ago.

There are other factors in remembering things, to be sure, but attention is a biggie. A few years ago, after a series of flights, I was sure I could deliver a safety briefing myself. I was wrong, so now I pay attention. Just in case.

Intention

How do you give attention? You have done it, so you can. There have been other times when you failed to do it. The best way, perhaps, to give attention is to be intentional about it.

Here is how not to do that, because, you know, I want to help.

You are not intentional about paying attention when you invite distractions. For instance, you are having coffee with a friend who needs your advice. You sit down at a table with your drinks, and you pull your phone out of your pocket and place it face up on the table, where you can see it at a glance.

What are the odds that you will receive a notification of some kind during your conversation? Yep, 100%. And not only will you look at your phone, you will pick it up and look carefully. Where is your attention? Not on your friend.

Does your friend care? Maybe not, but what your actions say is, “I care about me more than I care about you.”

We have all been guilty of inviting distractions, or, on a slightly less offensive level, failing to block distractions.

About 30 minutes ago I was writing away on this piece. I was focused and paying attention to writing about paying attention. My phone was sitting in its charger, facing me. Suddenly it lit up and let me know a text had arrived. I picked up the phone, saw that the text was spam, deleted it, and then looked at an earlier text. A second spam text arrived, this one with pictures. I deleted it and reported it as spam. Then came a third spam text from the same source, asking if I got the pictures. Delete. Report.

Now safe again, I still held the phone in my hands. A game of sudoku somehow opened and was played. I looked out the window and thought something in the back yard could use my attention. Time passed, and words were not written.

It was not my intention to create an illustration about how not to pay attention, but it’s nice when something good comes out of my own failures.

Now my phone is on “Do Not Disturb,” and I am intentionally paying attention to what I’m writing.

Remember this

The idea of writing about “remembering” occurred to me on Memorial Day. It is a day of remembrance, specifically remembering those in the military who gave their lives in the line of duty. My wife and I watched the Memorial Day Concert, which always has great stories to help us remember that America is truly “the land of the free because of the brave.”

That gives us an important reason to remember: we are the beneficiaries of the sacrifices of men and women decades — even centuries — ago. If we fail to remember, we not only do a disservice to those who came before us, we deeply diminish our appreciation for the blessings we enjoy.

It isn’t just Memorial Day when we remember. On July 4, we remember that the United States was once subject to Great Britain, but gained independence. Every Christmas we are reminded that God sent his son to be born as a baby and live as a man on earth.

Easter reminds us that Jesus, that same son of God, was raised from the dead and still lives. A cross reminds us of that as well.

Without these reminders, are we likely to forget? Apparently we are.

My reason for saying so is simple: in the Bible God told people over and over (and over), “Remember.” In fact it would be a fascinating study to look at the use of the word throughout the Bible. One use is consistent: God says he will remember, and I believe it. Likewise he tells us we need to remember, knowing we are prone to forget, and I believe that, too.

According to a fascinating new book called Why We Remember, “Memory does more than store knowledge or keep track of what we’ve seen, it points to what we can and should do in the future.”

I love things that help us remember, like statues and plaques and paintings. I love storytellers and docents. Books, from history to autobiography, are among my favorites.

Books often recount the evil men have done, and we need to remember those deeds as well. They point us to what we should never repeat or allow in the future.

May our memories point us toward doing more and more good, and may future generations remember us for that.

Do good. It’s in you.

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