What if a stranger’s hunger caused the same sense of urgency in us as our mid-afternoon sugar-craving?
Today I have a guest post up. Full article and comments below.
As the person behind Gunmetal Geisha, it’s my pleasure to guest blog here. Please remember, women’s issues are human issues.
Do you roll eyes at so-called inspirational quotes and self-betterment platitudes? I know I do, which means if you don’t, you’re already a step ahead of me in terms of grace. After all, what is it to me if people find themselves uplifted where I might not? I should have the grace to summon neutrality in myself when it comes to how others choose to spread what they believe is goodness. In fact, I’m working on eliminating all contempt in relation to other people’s tastes and beliefs that differ from my own. As my friend Joshua says, no need to “yuck anyone’s yum.”
Still, you can imagine how I struggled with writing a “messagey” piece, which this is about to become. How can I keep people from rolling their eyes when I’m about to rehash thoughts they’re subjected to from all directions? I can’t. I can only show the courage to risk repeating what they already know. Here it goes.
It’s simply not possible to navigate life through the twisty bends of work, finance, family and relationships without encountering bumps and stalls some of the time.
But it is possible to train one’s self to handle the rough parts with grace and dignity.
Why is this important? You know why:
You can start at the individual level and make a better world.
If I work on me, and you work on you, and we each humbly share what we find valuable with the next person, and so on, we could have a bonafide epidemic. But you know, without the pestilence.
You’ve heard a dozen secular and religious variations of the thought: Pay it forward. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
I was tempted to truncate the last sentence: Do unto others. But already, we don’t think about the actual meaning behind those words. The more we hear something, the more it ceases to have meaning. So maybe, let’s start by taking the proverbial aspect out of it and work with the simple version:
Treat others the way you want be treated.
I know, I want to punch myself too. Believe me, I like to avoid saying things everybody else says. But I’m going to be stubborn and ask you to really consider what it would mean, in a worldwide sense, if every individual on the planet conducted themselves according to the Do Unto words. And let me clarify, I am by no means religious. But if you are, far be it for me to yuck your yum.
Is it possible that if we only had to go by one life rule and still prevent full-on Wild West mayhem, treating others the way we want to be treated would be the most simple and reasonable?
So why is it so hard?
Self-interest, that’s why.
Every screwed-up thing that happens in this world, whether among quarreling couples or warring governments, is rooted in self-interest.
Even when we adopt the Do Unto policy, our thought would rarely be, if I were that guy who’s accidentally cutting me off in rush hour traffic, I wouldn’t want someone like me to honk in anger, and follow up by calmly waving him in front of us.
It would more likely be, that selfish asshole who just cut me off clearly hasn’t adopted the Do Unto policy, because if he had, he wouldn’t cut me off. So I’ll reign honking terror on him to remind him he wasn’t treating me how he’d want to be treated if I were him.
Too often, instead of treating others the way we’d want to be treated, we treat them the way we assume they would mistreat us.
The problem is, our own interests are often in conflict with the interest of others, and we’re so good at twisting everything back around to our self-interest.
So treating everyone the way we want to be treated would actually involve giving their interests equal weight to our own.
This is not easy by any measure, however, it’s not impossible. Especially if we all participated. It might sound like an impossible expectation, a collective agreement from all human beings. But is it?
We do, for the most part, collectively agree not to enter each other’s homes and take stuff. We do collectively agree to stop at red lights. All I’m saying is, it’s not impossible to self-implement a policy in which we at least attempt to give the same weight to other people’s interest as our own.
What if the thought of other people’s children dying on the battlefield horrified us as much the thought of our own offspring? What if people in business acknowledged they don’t want be ripped off any more than customers do? What if everyone was willing to get slightly less rich because they showed more scruples? What if a stranger’s hunger caused the same sense of urgency in us as our mid-afternoon sugar-craving?
It’s not an outrageous reach to imagine our individual selflessness leading to a collective selflessness impacting why we war or how wealth is distributed.
Some may say that’s an oversimplification of global issues. But think about it, greed is simple. Even cruelty is simple.
I began speaking about gracefully handling bumps on the road, and later dragged actual traffic into it. We’ve all been the person who gets cut off or does the cutting off, and we’re all familiar with angry-driver behavior, including our own. Every driver thinks they’re in the right, honking ensues, middle fingers fly, and someone begins a drag race either to intimidate the offending driver, or to get away from the wronged one rolling up with a face of fury.
It is in the midst of this most mundane of circumstances that I had the opportunity to see the simplicity and impact of decency.
I was making a left at a busy, wide intersection. My mind doesn’t usually choose such moments to wander, but on this occasion, it did. Somehow I managed not to see the car continuing straight on the lane into which I was turning. It certainly wasn’t my intention to cut off the car and terrify the driver, but I did. In fact, I didn’t even realize what I’d done until I noticed the car in my rear view mirror speeding straight towards me. When it reached me, it angrily veered to the right to roll up next to me, which would have been my cue to take off. But instead, I found myself shocked that I had caused such a reaction in someone at all. Instinctively, I slowed down until the car was parallel to mine, at which point, I began rolling down my passenger window.
The driver was a woman and her face looked like it might crack with the stress lines I’d caused her. My window rolled down all the way and I slowly shook my head in contrite dismay. I mouthed, “I’m so sorry!” It was from my heart.
What took place on her face was a wonder. Her face transformed from rage to unexpected delight. She was immediately placated and didn’t feel the need to finish whatever sentence she had begun. Instead, she nodded with a satisfied smile and drove on.
It was that easy to diffuse someone’s anger? Simply take responsibility when you’re at fault? In other words, basic courtesy? That is as micro, mundane and individual as you can get.
It was a grand experiment regarding conditioning versus inspired reactions.
Maybe the woman would now be more patient with her kids when she arrived home. And because of that, maybe her kids would be nicer to other kids in school the next day. And so on.
Infection doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
Allowing ourselves to experience negative emotions like disregard, spite and jealousy towards others is in our control.
In the same way, our heart has a humanity knob on it that turns up and down. It’s our choice which direction to turn it.
Writer, fledgling filmmaker, actress. A person living life imperfectly. Those are the things I write about, especially the imperfect part, but also about ways to gain better footing on an uneven path.