Here’s a secret about me. Left unchecked, I can be pretty selfish.
I tend to get caught up in my own little world of busy-ness, and I very rarely allow anything to get in my way. On the one hand, this had led to a great deal of personal and professional success. On the other hand, it means that, sometimes, I put my needs ahead of others’, even when people need me.
Lately, I’ve been working on this aspect of my personality by reminding myself that everyone has their shit.
In other words, the elderly woman who is taking forever in the grocery line in front of me might have arthritis, which is keeping her from quickly counting her change. The man who cuts me off on the highway might have just received a fatal diagnosis. The woman who butts in front of me to get on the subway might have just gotten a divorce.
When I get angry at these types of people, it’s often because of an underlying assumption that my life is more important than theirs. I need to get my groceries quickly so that I can get home to make dinner on time. I need to get where I’m going because people are expecting me. I need to get to work quickly because I have a lot to do.
A couple of months ago, I attended a lecture at the research hospital near my office. As I was trying to find my cell phone in my bag, a man walked by me. We made eye contact, and I smiled at him, because he reminded me of my father-in-law. He looked kind of angry, and I hoped that he was ok.
On my way out of the hospital, this same man was walking a few feet ahead of me. He crossed the street and then collapsed on the other side of the road. In the millisecond between when he fell and when I noticed his fall, I did something very strange.
I looked away.
When I looked back one second later, a nurse was helping him. When I got to his side of the street, I noticed that he was conscious, but he had blood on the side of his head from the fall.
I was glad that he was getting help. But my initial reaction to his fall bothered me. Why did I look away? Was it because I was in a rush to get home so that I could get my work done? Was it because I don’t have first aid skills so I wasn’t sure how to help him? Was it because I have trouble acknowledging the pain and suffering of others? What would I have done if I’d witnessed him collapse on an empty street, where I was the only person available to help?
I don’t know.
Here’s what I do know. Everyone around me has a life that they believe is as important—if not more important—than mine.
By invoking a bit of kindness and patience, I can do my part to make life better for everyone.
Here’s an example. A woman in my apartment building is currently struggling with MS. She walks with a cane, and in the six months that I’ve lived here, I’ve noticed that her health has been getting worse. In the early spring, she fell on some ice and broke her wrist. She lives alone so has trouble carrying things up the two flights of stairs to her apartment. But she is the sweetest, kindest lady. She’s always smiling, and she always says hi to me.
When I see her, I often have mixed feelings. I hold the door open for her, and every once in awhile we’ll have a quick chat. The selfish part of me wants the chat to be as quick as possible. Because, as I noted above, I often mistakenly think that my life is more important than everyone else’s.
My husband, on the other hand, always makes a point to talk with her for a while. He carries her groceries and parcels upstairs for her. The other day, he knocked on her door to give her his cell phone number. He told her to call him anytime she arrives with groceries so that he can go downstairs to help her.
I had tears in my eyes when he told me he had done this.
His act of kindness was generous, simple, and selfless. I, on the other hand, would probably never have given our neighbour my cell number, because I wouldn’t want to be “bothered” while I’m working. So, in an effort to be more generous, I knocked on her door and gave her some strawberries that I had picked earlier that day. The selfish, lack-based aspect of my personality wouldn’t have given her those berries. It would have convinced me that I didn’t have enough for myself (even though I’d picked fifteen pounds of them!). But the look on her face when I handed the berries to her completely dissolved my sense of lack.
These small, simple acts of kindness can make a huge difference in people’s lives.
Sometimes, people’s shit is obvious. When a person collapses in front of you or walks with a cane, it’s easy to see that they need help. Other times, people keep their shit hidden. In my opinion, the hidden shit is the hardest to deal with.
When someone butts in front of me in the subway, my gut reaction isn’t to consider what else is going on in his life. In that moment, I’m pissed, and I don’t care what he might be going through. To be honest, my gut reaction is usually that the person is a jerk.
This is why lately I’ve been trying to see the bigger picture. I’ve been trying to acknowledge that we all have out shit. Even the people who look like they have it all together are usually suffering over something.
This week, I encourage you to show a little compassion. Do something nice for your neighbour. Pay for the person behind you at the drive thru. Smile at someone who looks like they’re in a bad mood. Can you imagine what the world would be like if every single person on earth engaged in one act of compassion per day?
Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. is an author, speaker, researcher, and yoga teacher who helps people create a life they love. Check out her book, The Antidepressant Antidote, follow her on Facebook and Twitter, and join her whole-self health revolution.
If you’d like tips on the topic of manifesting your dream job, plus some personal instruction from Bethany, check out her online course, Creating A Life You Love: Find Your Passion, Live Your Purpose and Create Financial Freedom.
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