An Economy of Attention

Over breakfast one morning while Jana and I were in Switzerland with the Pepperdine Study Abroad program, we had a wonderful conversation with Emily Plank about the culture of children.

Emily is an expert in the area of childhood education and has written a book Discovering the Culture of Children. Emily explained that the book approaches childhood sociologically and anthropologically, exploring childhood as a culture distinct from adult culture.

That approach fascinated me given how last semester Jana and I spent many hours experiencing the culture of children when we helped with childcare after school at Abilene Christian School. As I shared a few months ago, Jana and I were greatly impacted by our time with the children. Over breakfast we shared our observations with Emily to see how they intersected with her own observations and research.

Here's a bit from that post I wrote, observations we shared with Emily:
I think children teach us the basics of being a human being. Children want you to bear witness, to behold, to see them. The requests you get over and over again are, "Look at me!" and "Watch this." and "Come here and see this." Most of what you do in being with children is beholding them. Seeing. Watching. Bearing witness.

Which requires two things. Presence and attention. You have to be there, and you have to have your eyes open.

And as I practice these skills again on Tuesdays and Fridays, I'm made aware that I'm being reeducated all over again in how to be a human being. 
When Emily heard us describe all this, she said, "Yes, exactly! Childhood culture is an economy of attention." 

And that phrase absolutely nailed it for me. An economy of attention. If you've ever spent time with children you've experienced this. Giving and receiving attention is the currency of childhood culture.

And I think that explains why we find playing with children so humanizing. Because at its heart, love is simply an economy of attention. I believe this is a part of what Jesus is talking about when he points to children and says, "The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."

Love is an economy of attention. The kingdom of God is an economy of attention.

From the last part of my post reflecting on being with children:
What we want most from each other is presence and attention. That's the basic language of love. But we so rarely offer each other this gift. Mostly because we are all, at various times, sullen, oppositional, demanding, and boring. So we look away. And we lose track of each other.

And eventually, we discover that we've left each other all alone, and that love is in short supply.

Presence and attention. That's what I think made Jesus so good with children. That when no one else saw them, he did.

The way he beheld everyone.

And so it is that a five year old girl takes my hand and tugs, pulling me toward the sandbox.

"Come and see," she says.

I follow.

And I behold.

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