Monday’s Meditation: On The Danger of Discounting Strangers

January 6, 2014

The speed at which our society moves can be overwhelming. In response, we’ve adopted an array of habits meant to–at least give us the impression that–we’re keeping up.

We have become somewhat robotic in our day to day dealings because we have had to; the distractions are unrelenting, the advertising profuse, the options for every decision available to us so copious that we have had no choice but to shield ourselves with what means we could. We are like bumper people whose goal it is to get through the day unscathed and un-bumped more than anything else.

An unfortunate consequence is that all too often we veer towards the myopic in regards to the people we may encounter haphazardly. Our brains prioritize interactions, telling us that the people we planned to meet are important, and thus we should show up for them. The people who pass through our lives by happenstance, however, we mistakenly discount.

We ignore our neighbors because, we tell ourselves, we just don’t have time to exchange pleasantries. We act as though our not knowing a person’s name somehow means they don’t have one at all, or the human needs and characteristics that go along with one. We rush past people, we put our heads down, we avoid eye contact. We treat people in the service industry especially as unworthy of our attention or our gratitude, as though the fact that they’re being monetarily compensated somehow precludes our gratitude for them doing their job well. We have all of us been that asshole who barely acknowledges the existence of our Starbucks barista because we’re so preoccupied with a phone call, let’s not try to pretend otherwise.

Here’s a bold thought: what if every person we come across matters just as much as the all star client who we’re so concerned about impressing?

What if we operated as though we believed every person was worthy of our attention–the grocery bagger, the driver next to you in traffic, your doorman?

We couldn’t be expected to delve into deep spiritual sessions with every person we encountered or we’d never make it ten paces forward in life. But we could actually acknowledge everyone by looking them in the eye, smiling at them, thanking them for the service they’ve given us, if any, and really meaning it. We might even, if we had the seconds to spare, go one step further by asking them about their day, and engaging in a brief and friendly dialogue.

It would require us to exert more effort in moments when we might ordinary coast on autopilot. We would probably have to put down our phones, stay present in the moment, and suspend judgments based on appearance.

But in the process we would be fulfilling two of the overarching principles that we know are real: 1. that we never know how our small kindness might spread, and 2. that what we’re looking for is so often found in the most unexpected, chance encounters. We never know the significance one person might have in our lives if we don’t take the time to acknowledge them.

If we tried to be a little more aware this week of the people around us, if we tried to consciously show up for all of life, instead of for a select few, if we sang songs of pleases and thank yous and have a great days like they were the tastiest tunes, and if we made it our mission to make other people feel they mattered more so than we focused on what we might get out of it, well then, we, the Live Simply community, would be responsible for daily injecting a little more loving kindness into the world. Wouldn’t that be delicious?

Yeah, that’d be pretty sweet.

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