At this time of year, most of us are thinking about our friends and loved ones and what type of gifts we can share to celebrate the holidays. This year, rather than focusing on physical presents, I would like to suggest that we focus on giving the gift of presence.
The word presence is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “the fact or condition of being present.” To me, however, presence is much more than a physical state of being. In today’s society, we often find ourselves buried in our phones, zoning out with our headphones in our ears, or simply living in an alternate world through video games.
According to our parents, technology is ruining our youth. While the whole “doesn’t anyone go outside and play anymore” thing is a little overblown, maybe they do have a point. While there is definitely a place for technology in our lives, it should not dominate our lives. We have to remember that technology is a tool to make our lives better, it is not a substitute for living the lives that we are meant to live.
Last summer, I had the opportunity to backpack for three weeks in the Wyoming backcountry. While the idea of spending weeks without my phone seemed absolutely crazy at first, I quickly realized that it simplified my life and allowed me to truly experience nature and the people around me. Snapchat and Instagram were replaced by daily handwritten entries in my journal. Group chats were replaced by conversations with new friends around the fire. Late night Facetime was replaced by reading a chapter of my book each night in my tent before disappearing into my sleeping bag.
While the backcountry forced me to take a break from the modern world and experience life without technology, this is not feasible in the real world in which we live. There are so many simple and realistic ways that we can each try to be present and make an impact on others during this holiday season. Presence can be as simple as putting down the phone and participating in family discussions or listening silently to what your friends have to say about what is going on in their lives. You won’t believe how much you can learn through listening and how important it can make the speaker feel to know that he or she is being heard. We can also make our presence felt through participation in a countless number of community projects such as town clean-up efforts, toy drives, or service at a local food pantry. Being present is as easy as stopping to help a mother lift her stroller onto the sidewalk in the rain or giving directions to someone who looks lost. These are small but intimate ways to give back to our community.
The gift of presence is the most personal and special present that a person can give to another, whether it be a family member, stranger or our community at large. Being an active participant in the moment shows others that you care about them and what is going on around you. So put that phone away for a few extra minutes this holiday season and truly celebrate with those you love. Anybody can give a present but only you can give your presence.
—Zack Siegel is a student columnist from Port Washington