The art of being present – to the dying and the living

Was at a meeting of layreaders last night at which Dorothy More Brookes spoke. She's chaplain of the Isabel Hospice. And before that was chaplain at Great Ormond Street for 6 years.  She had us in the palm of her hand as she explained the role she has to play for those who ending their lives. Her advice to us was to trust our instincts. Not what we had expected from someone with the title chaplain with all the assumptions this carries that they represent an organisation, a tradition, a deity and a party line to follow.  The idea of simply allowing others to dictate the agenda, to give them the gift of our entire attention whatever they express and wherever they want to go – this is very different. An anecdote illustrates this well. She was approached by a Muslim woman wearing a chadar who asked her to pray for her daughter. Dorothy asked if she wanted to be put in touch with an imam. Why would I want to speak to somebody else's husband? You're a holy woman you do the praying.

The art of being present to others is a rarity. Most of the time we learn to live with the inattention of others. But whenever it is offered it is usually received. Of all places a hospic is a place where people need to be listened to and not lectured.

You might find this an extremely odd topic on a blog which at least attempts to follow or comment on marketing issues.  But this deep listening is something which takes place in certain kinds of research. It is actually one of the most powerful ways of learning. And by using it marketers get an altogether deep understanding about what really matters to their customers. In recent years there has been a concerted effort to break out of the tight wagon circle of buying and selling because we simply didn't know enough about people to communicate with them commercially.  Which is why I get asked to describe customer groups in much broader terms than their demographics and past purchase behaviour.  Now maybe this is crossing a line that shouldn't be crossed. I prefer to think of it differently. It is the refusal to move beyond the trivia of mass consumption which can condemn a brand to ultimately remain trivial and marginal to people's lives.  Out of respect for the humanity of our customers we have to start engaging with the whole person and not just the part closest their wallets. Of which more in the next post – and the mental age of brands.

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