15. TO HIS SON"There is no surer sign in the world of a little, weak mind, than inattention." Smartphones sometimes seem to have been invented to reveal who is not smart. The smart person, in a meeting, puts away the smartphone in order to pay attention, to learn all that might be gleaned, directly or indirectly, to observe, infer, and deduce. They pay respect to others in the meeting with their attention and they learn.
Dublin Castle, March IO, 1746
I most thankfully acknowledge the honour of two or three letters from you, since I troubled you with my last; and am very proud of the repeated instances you give me of your favour and protection, which I shall endeavour to deserve.
I am very glad that you went to hear a trial in the Court of King's Bench; and still more so, that you made the proper animadversions upon the inattention of many of the people in the Court. As you observed very well the indecency of that inattention, I am sure you will never be guilty of any thing like it yourself. There is no surer sign in the world of a little, weak mind, than inattention. Whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well; and nothing can be well done without attention. It is the sure answer of a fool, when you ask him about any thing that was said or done where he was present, that 'truly he did not mind it. And why did not the fool mind it? What had he else to do there, but to mind what was doing? A man of sense sees, hears, and retains, every thing that passes where he is, I desire I may never hear you talk of not minding, nor complain, as most fools do, of a treacherous memory.
Mind, not only what people say, but how they say it; and, if you have any sagacity, you may discover more truth by your eyes than by your ears. People can say what they will, but they cannot look just as they will; and their looks frequently discover, what their words are calculated to conceal. Observe, therefore, people's looks carefully, when they speak not only to you, but to each other. I have often guessed, by people's faces, what they were saying, though I could not hear one word they said. The most material knowledge of all, I mean the knowledge of the world, is never to be acquired without great attention; and I know many old people, who, though they have lived long in the world, are but children still as to the knowledge of it, from their levity and inattention. Certain forms, which all people comply with, and certain arts, which all people aim at, hide, in some degree, the truth, and give a general exterior resemblance to almost every body. Attention and sagacity must see through that veil, and discover the natural character.
You are of an age now, to reflect, to observe and compare characters, and to arm yourself against the common arts, at least, of the world. If a man, with whom you are but barely acquainted, to whom you have made no offers, nor given any marks of friendship, makes you, on a sudden, strong professions of his, receive them with civility, but do not repay them with confidence: he certainly means to deceive you; for one man does not fall in love with another at sight. If a man uses strong protestations or oaths, to make you believe a thing, which is of itself so likely and probable that the bare saying of it would be sufficient, depend upon it he lies, and is highly interested in making you believe it; or else he would not take so much pains.
In about five weeks, I propose having the honour of laying myself at your feet: which I hope to find grown /longer than they were when I left them. Adieu
Then there are the others. Those who do not respect their fellow meeting participants, those whose lack of attention and curiosity about what they can learn from their present company leads them to their "smart"phones. Those who demonstrate to the observant, their own lack of curiosity and inability to focus or learn by their incessant paging through the pablum on their screen.
Chesterfield was right, "There is no surer sign in the world of a little, weak mind, than inattention."