RE­SOLVE TO WATCH WORLD AROUND YOU

Post-Tribune - - Front Page - JERRY DAVICH jdavich@post-trib.com

Pay at­ten­tion! No, lit­er­ally. Marc Salem in­sists we need to pay more at­ten­tion to the world around us, and this is my New Year’s res­o­lu­tion chal­lenge to you.

“We’re taught about read­ing, writ­ing and arith­metic, but we’re never taught about non­ver­bal com­mu­ni­ca­tion,” said Salem, a “men­tal­ist” who im­me­di­ately picked up on my skep­ti­cal non­ver­bal com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

Salem is a New York col­lege pro­fes­sor who vis­ited North­west In­di­ana last week for his ec­cen­tric “Mind Over Mun­ster” shows at the The­atre at the Cen­ter. He used his psy­cho­log­i­cal tech­niques, quick wit and a sharp eye to “break the lock” on the brains of his au­di­ence mem­bers.

I at­tended one of the shows and watched the en­tire au­di­ence leave the venue mes­mer­ized by his 90-minute per­for­mance, ask­ing the same ques­tion: “How did he do that?”

Salem en­gages his view­ers in a se­ries of in­ter­ac­tive ex­er­cises, such as when he asked a ran­domly picked au­di­ence mem­ber to pick one of two news­pa­pers he of­fered. He then asked the man to choose a sec­tion of that cho­sen news­pa­per. And then to choose a spe­cific page.

Salem took the page and re­peat­edly ripped it in half, ask­ing the man to pick which half to con­tinue with un­til there was only a shred of newsprint left.

The man read it aloud and Salem walked over to a ta­ble on stage. On it was a piece of pa­per with words writ­ten by Salem be­fore the ex­er­cise be­gan. His pre­dicted words matched up per­fectly with the words on the news­pa­per rem­nant. Again, how did Salem do that? I have no idea.

“I’m just warm­ing up,” he told the au­di­ence.

Salem has been fea­tured on “The O’Reilly Fac­tor,” “60 Min­utes” and “Court TV,” where he serves as a con­sul­tant. He also was di­rec­tor of re­search for “Sesame Street” for 10 years be­fore baf­fling au­di­ences from Broad­way to London and beyond.

“We all love to hear about our­selves so that’s what I give them. I talk about their thoughts, their lives,” said Salem, who also was on my ra­dio show.

He rou­tinely con­founded me with his in­sights of what I was think­ing. For in­stance, he asked my co-host and me to each pick a num­ber be­tween one and nine. While pon­der­ing our choices, he wrote his guesses on pa­per.

We chose three and eight, the same num­bers he wrote down. How’d he do that? Not by su­per­nat­u­ral mumbo-jumbo or witch­craft, but by pay­ing at­ten­tion to my ev­ery word, move­ment and non­ver­bal cue.

Such at­ten­tion to the de­tails of hu­man be­hav­ior is a lost art.

“As a so­ci­ety, we’re over­stim­u­lated,” he said. “Our senses are bom­barded by an un­be­liev­able amount of stim­uli so rapid in mo­tion that it would have given us a headache 20 years ago. Who can fo­cus th­ese days?”

Plato once said that as soon as we learn how to chron­i­cle our thoughts, the sooner our minds will get lazier. His prophetic words ring true in the dig­i­tal age, where elec­tronic de­vices now serve as our mem­ory.

Mar­shall McLuhan, a Cana­dian philoso­pher of com­mu­ni­ca­tion the­ory, ad­vanced this con­cept by as­sert­ing that all mod­ern me­dia will be­come an ex­ten­sion of our minds. His the­o­ries are now the bedrock for ad­ver­tis­ing and mar­ket­ing strate­gies.

“It’s the tyranny of the visual,” Salem said. “We’re cre­ated to lis- ten to the world, more than to see it. Be­cause of this, we’re miss­ing three-quarters of it.”

We’re grad­u­ally los­ing our pri­mal skills to pay at­ten­tion. Such skills are be­com­ing in­stinct. Why? We’re too im­pa­tient, too de­pen­dent on de­vices, too much in a hurry for in­stant grat­i­fi­ca­tion.

We get ag­i­tated when hav­ing to wait a few seconds for a new web page. We surf through TV chan­nels like a teenager on a sugar high. We have the at­ten­tion span of 2-year-old child. Col­lec­tively, we have at­ten­tion deficit hy­per­ac­tiv­ity disorder.

Too many school sys­tems foster this hurry up and wait, one-siz­e­fits-all, core cur­ricu­lum men­tal­ity to pump out cookie-cut­ter kids (and ca­reers) in­stead of par­lay­ing kids’ in­di­vid­ual strengths to earn a liv­ing.

For another ex­er­cise, Salem asked me to ran­domly choose a book. I chose one on phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals. He fanned through its pages.

“Say stop at any point,” he told me.

I stopped him at page 153, where I picked the first word on the page: natur­opa­thy.

He asked me to stare at his fore­head while he rat­tled off the al­pha­bet.

“Don’t say any­thing, just keep look­ing at me,” he said. “OK, the first let­ter of your word is N.” He rat­tled off more let­ters. “The next let­ter is A,” he said. He rat­tled off more. “The next one is T,” he said. How did he know? He fo­cused on how I re­acted to the let­ters he said aloud. Ei­ther I blinked or smiled or twitched each time he said it.

Sim­ply put, he paid at­ten­tion to the gestalt of my mind and be­hav­ior. (Lis­ten to my “Ca­sual Fri­days” ra­dio show in­ter­view with Salem at lakeshore­pub­lic­me­dia.org.)

“Ev­ery­thing I do can be done by any 10-year-old,” he said, “with 20 years of prac­tice.”

There’s the catch. It takes prac­tice. It takes fo­cus. It takes pay­ing at­ten­tion to things we nor­mally ig­nore, are obliv­i­ous to, or take for granted. It’s all about flex­ing our brain’s “mus­cle mem­ory” and rewiring our in­creas­ingly lazy minds.

Re­gard­less of your New Year’s res­o­lu­tion, this should be added to it. Start by tak­ing a new route to work, eat­ing dessert be­fore a meal, and tak­ing a shower with your eyes closed, he sug­gested.

“We have a nov­elty gene in us, but we’re not us­ing it,” Salem said.

On New Year’s Day, let’s start us­ing it again.

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