What it means to be in the world, not just stumbling your way through it.
The woman was struggling to get into her car. She was parked in the Costco handicapped space (for good reason). I slowed down.
“Can I give you a hand?”
“Nope, but thanks. Cranky knees.”
We exchanged some thoughts about Mueller knee braces. I walked on.
Later, in my Safeway store, a woman was struggling to pull out a cart.
“Here. Take mine.” She looked at me, surprised. Then she grinned.
“Thank you!” I pulled another out. Kept shopping.
On way way out of the parking lot, I had to pass in front of the store. There, people with carts full of groceries have right of way. Assholes in a hurry don’t give them that. I do. Because, first, it’s the law. Second, it’s respectful. Third, it’s the right fucking thing to do.
Wait til you’re old, on a walker, and some asshole decides that you’re too slow, and clips two seconds of time by sending you spinning. Right to the ER.
A few weeks ago a Medium writer penned a piece about being polite at the grocery store. I might expand on that, if I may.
While I’m going to take this topic up in a different article, given that I’ve written a prize-winning book on the topic of the power of our words, here I just want to address our actions.
Because in our increasingly isolated world where drivers spend more time texting than driving, where folks spend more time in chat rooms than chatting in person, we have lost our sense of each other. It’s all about memememememememe, the Great Almighty Me, and as long as I get mine, things are great. Sometimes at considerable cost to others. This is of course, the very definition of scarcity mentality.
While this isn’t true for all of us, nor is this the case everywhere, the sickness of the Self is spreading. Yet. As a spate of Just Be Nice articles on Medium made clear, plenty of us not only desperately want to have people be nice to us, we want to be nicer to them. Look. It’s not exactly hard. But I’m ahead of myself.
Here’s the big picture:
My perspective, and it’s only mine, is born of a small town farm background. My folks were born before 1915. I spent five years in the Army, and I am Southern by birth if not necessarily by politics.
The value set that I came up with is that people are Ma’am and Sir, whether or not I am older. You open doors, and when you are the first through you always check to see if there is someone behind you. Doesn’t matter the sex. Sometimes people get slammed in the face with a heavy door because they’re distracted, or because you couldn’t be bothered to notice that there was a pregnant woman trying to muscle a big package and two kids through right behind you.
My Southern/military/last century value set is that you let people in when they’re stuck in a driveway or side road. You drive ten cars ahead and at least three behind. That means you know if someone is trying to get over to make a right turn on a busy freeway. LET THEM. And if someone is an asshole and cuts you off while doing that, LET THEM. One dangerous driver on the road is enough.
Besides, this: One night my father rushed me at warp speed to the ER because I was bleeding profusely. I’m a bona fide hemophiliac and I was in serious trouble. He broke every law in the book. You have no idea what’s going on in someone’s life, their car, their world. You can’t possibly know. That might be you, trying to get your bleeding child to the ER at rush hour, blocked by arrogant mindless selfish assholes who won’t let you by while your baby’s lifeblood drains out into the passenger seat.
Wait your turn. Just wait until you desperately need folks to be mindful of others.
My value set is that you pick up trash in the parking lot and throw it in the can. It’s my town, my lot, my world. I am 100% responsible not only for my part of keeping things clean. Where I can, taking a split second to pick up a cup and toss it not only helps out, but it also shows kids (and their parents) that someone cares. Someone has to do it. Why not me?
Indeed. Why not you?
My value set says that I get up and let someone sit down on a crowded bus. Look. I’m a senior. But here’s the piece: even when I’m injured, I’m in better shape than most folks. Get up and let someone sit down: with her kids, his overly heavy bags, makes no difference. The expression on their faces is enough.
When I was in Ethiopia, there were lots of folks traveling on Ethiopian Airlines who weren’t used to the demands. One Muslim woman, wrapped head to toe, had too much on her hands. Her robes, whipped by the wind, were impeding her. As she began to step into the bus that was to take us to the terminal, I reached out, offered my hand. Her eyes widened, then crinkled as I saw her grin, and she grabbed hard. That little lift made all the difference for both of us.
More times than I can count, when I am in developing countries, someone’s ancient mother has trouble navigating the stairs to get on board. I get underneath an elbow or hold an arm, and she gets to the top safely. It takes no effort at all on my part, and it makes all the difference to them. Someone noticed, someone cared. And often, when I do that, people who would otherwise shove by (and boy do they) and potentially knock these frail folks over are blocked. There is no way I am going to let them shove me and these people aside. I might be small but I can be a fucking defensive lineman when it comes to someone’s safety.
The thanks I get from a family member are beyond priceless. You can’t begin to understand how such behavior can change the increasingly widespread narrative that all Americans/Westerners hate (fill in the blank).
You don’t do this for the thanks. You do it because it’s the right fucking thing to do. It’s being aware of Others.
You want hero buttons? You’re in the wrong business. Because being truly heroic, if that’s what you have to have, often means doing things behind the scenes, out of view. Stuff that isn’t showy or fancy or clap-worthy. Or Youtube worthy.
It’s just worthy.
For anyone watching the AFC playoffs this Wildcard weekend, there’s this. But being great doesn’t have to mean win the playoff. It could be that you simply did something that was kind, completely uncalled for, but in the largest sense, absolutely necessary. That’s what makes a hero. Because there’s no hero button when you do it.
Previous generations used to make jokes about letting George do it.
Well, that attitude has led us to massive waste dumps, messes, visual sewage…
I AM GEORGE.
George is the guy who quietly cleans up other people’s messes, where he can. Bit by bit. Puts the carts that people leave all other the parking lot where they belong. Puts groceries that other people knock over back where they belong. Help people get back up after tripping. Help someone get a bulky coat off or on. That’s a George.
So are you. Being “George” means that you and I are aware of others. Others’ rights, others’ needs, others’ presence around me. I constantly try to cultivate an awareness if someone is about to drop a package, is having trouble in one way or another, struggling to get out of a chair or lift something heavy.
During the course of every single day there are hundreds if not thousands of small, but significant opportunities to offer kindness. Given the widespread snarkiness, body-shaming, bullying and other abuses that the current climate not only allows but engenders, radical acts of kindness are not only helpful, they can be life-changing.
Cultivating awareness of others causes you to see. To notice. To acknowledge. Not only that, you end up with stories. Good feelings. Incredibly good feelings. When you make a habit of doing small things all day, they add up beyond your wildest imagination. You begin to see and experience yourself as useful, valuable, kind.
Look. Some days I wake up as an asshole. We all do. I have more than my fair share due to post concussion syndrome. But that doesn’t stop me, nor is that a weak excuse, for not being kind. Regularly. So much so that I don’t have to think about it. It’s just the right thing to do. It creates a safe and warm place for people. Especially given that there are so many more of us, it’s even more essential to be gracious.
If you’re the kind of person who believes that for you to be kind, others have to be nicer to you first, well….I can’t help you there Sparky.
If you’re the kind of person who needs your kindness to be published to the far corners so that you can wallow in your goodness, can’t help you there either, Sparky.
Because the whole point is that it’s NOT about you.
But when you cultivate awareness of other people, their needs, your environment, their rights to breathe the same air, share your roads and have a reasonable shot at a good life just like you do, you make space. When we make space, we are part of the community.
It’s very hard to feel lonely, isolated and poor me when you are part of the community, people look at you with gratitude, and you know damned good and well that you’re useful.
I can’t speak for anyone else. Growing up Southern, being in the military, and growing up with Great Generation parents provided some value sets for which I am very grateful. That doesn’t make me right and anyone else wrong. But for so many of us who feel so lonely, so disconnected, this strikes me as an easy remedy.
Radical acts of kindness. I used to see that on bumper stickers. But then, I’m old. But I do my best to be kind.