Apparently, it just couldn't wait.
I remember, years ago, doing a production of a relatively new musical in a theatre where the audience sat virtually in the actors' laps. In fact, in order for the audience to be seated at the beginning of the show, half of them had to walk across the stage to reach their seats -- an "intimate space," we would call it in the theatre.
The first act of this show ended in a particularly heart-rending, relatively quiet, and incredibly important moment. A fellow actor and I were actually frozen in place, physically touching, while another part of the scene occurred on the other side of the stage. And that's when it happened.
A phone rang.
I could feel both of our shoulders immediately tense — the loathing for a ringing cell phone in the theatre is no secret. They HAD to be kidding, right?! Surely, they would silence it and end the madness. But it rang again.
And then the audience member answered it.
You'll recall the layout of the theatre that I mentioned earlier. As luck would have it, this particular patron was seated on the side of the theatre which could only be accessed by crossing the entire stage. Which she did, rushedly whispering into her phone, running on the stage, in front of the actors, during a performance.
Many words came to mind. Words I won't go into here.
But, after those words, the first thing we all thought was "What is so important?" Instantly, visions of donors awaiting kidneys or doctors needed in surgery come to mind. There are things in life that are vitally, vitally important. That are worth taking a phone call any time, any where, for whatever reason. Those situations tend to be rare, and most of us know when something is vitally important and needs to be put first. It takes self-awareness to handle these challenging "life hurdles."
Often, when those lacking in self-awareness enough to do something like, oh, running across the stage to take a phone call in the middle of a play, act out in such a way, it's NOT a vitally important moment. The house manager in the theatre lobby informed us that there was no emergency for the woman in question- she just wanted to take the call, and then she was surprised when the he wouldn't let her re-enter the theatre with her cell phone.
So, I ask again, what is so important? Beyond the life-or-death issues that we all face in our lifetimes, what is so pressing? And how do we build the self- awareness to know the difference?
Everyone is guilty at one point or another of acting with social indiscretion, especially when it comes to our technology. On my way to a recent vacation, after mindlessly (and, I'll admit, obsessively) checking Facebook and surfing the web on on the way to the airport, on the security line, at the Starbucks, waiting to board the plane, I had a revelation. I stopped and asked myself that question: "What is so important that I am missing out on conversation and anticipation of my fabulous vacation to bury my head in my technology?"
Nothing, I realized.
I wasn't waiting for something major — I was going on vacation! But I didn't want to miss out on news, or emails, or updates from my friends or news outlets on the state of the world. I was somehow compelled to social bad-behavior. And when I think about it that way, I can almost understand the theatrical call-taker — there was some kind of impetus that she had yet to examine in her own life. She lacked the self-awareness needed to realize that her behavior was out of line.
This kind of social acting-out is prevalent, and much of the time, we may not even recognize that we're doing it! So, what are some self-awareness activities we can try to become more in tuned with some of our communication behaviors? Let's start with the big question:
1. "What is so important?": Feel compelled to answer your phone during a lunch meeting? Delve into email or social media rather than conversing with a colleague? Ask yourself, "what is so important?" If you can come up with a really good answer, good for you! From there you need to exercise your strong business etiquette skills to deal with the actual activity. But what if you CAN'T come up with a good response? If there is nothing vitally important in that moment, do your best to let it go.
2. Monitor and regulate: I ended up putting a moratorium on checking my Facebook page for the duration of my vacation. I love social media as much as the next person, but I realized I needed a break. This simple act helped me to realize EXACTLY how often I hide my head in a screen. Sure, part of that checking cycle becomes force of habit. Try saying, "I just checked my social media/email/news outlet ___________ minutes ago" to create some awareness before you check. Then refer again to #1.
3. Know that some things ARE that important: Maybe it's the illness of a loved one, or a health issue of your own. Perhaps it is just a pressing work matter that MUST be addressed. When things are that important, you must plan accordingly. If you're in a situation where you may need to leave and take a call, let others know. Life happens to everyone — people will understand if you're open, honest, and respectful. And if you have enough self-awareness to discern what's really important, when you need the leeway it will be granted to you.