Over the course of the past couple days I have had some fun experiences that have reminded me of some very basic things I think will make the planet a better place. The first of which I have said before, but I learned it in a new way in life recently and in fact at work yesterday: Other people exist.
I answered the phone at work as I usually do, offering my assistance and the poor man told me he had a few questions for me. Eight or nine minutes later he was still talking, working himself into a froth and had yet to ask a question. I simply offered empathetic hmmms and verbal nods over the phone, happy to know I was going to be able to help him easily… then he hung up. Poor fellow. So busy talking about his losses he had trouble imagining a win.
I have seen it elsewhere recently though. During my time in the wheel chair I have been amazed by the breadth of the spectrum of those who would and would not notice my wheely smallness. Some would walk right into a limited pathway clearly creating an obstacle for me without viable alternatives. Some would let me roll right up to their ankles and then act put-out if I kindly asked them to step aside. Others would be comically and overly interested in helping as If I were their one Boy Scout moment come to pass. Others still would beautifully and effectively open a door for me without ceasing to engage the person with whom they were talking and without drawing any attention to my need.
Some people are gifted that way, some grow into the skill — the ability to meet needs without even knowing they are doing it and certainly without drawing attention to it. What a gorgeous goal for a life, to be aware of others, to notice them. To give and not have your right hand know what your left hand is doing. It happens. This could be you. It might one day be me. We could do this.
The second lesson came as I got off the phone with the guy who lathered his annoyance up all on his lonesome. I could have said, “here is a guy not aware of others.” This time however, I got caught in my own crosshairs.
“Do I do that?” I asked. Do spend so much time announcing my defeat that I can not see help to cross the finish line?
Of course I do.
I was first faced with a moment of realizing that there are real idiots out there who are, as my Mom used to say, their “own worst enemy.” I was secondly faced with the reality that without caution, I am that idiot.
In this season of culture warring and name calling I realize that one of our worst cultural habits is that of throwing stones. We are quick to say demon-crats are liars or republican’ts are mean without for a moment considering that that stone is going to land on someone, a person. I threw a stone toward a group of people not thinking it was going to hit, a person. And that person might well be inclined to throw a stone back.
I would be lying to say some of the internet bickering has not hurt. Sometime people end up arguing with a version of me that isn’t actually what they think it is. We easily walk into place with our ideas and convictions without thinking for a moment, “I might be an obstacle, I might be blocking a different kind of body from getting through here.”
We can do better.
By “better” I do not mean we need to be silent about our convictions or to step away from hard issues. I think we can do a little bit better simply by acknowledging that people do things for reasons. Sometimes we do wrong things and sometimes we do good things poorly.
We do our worst when we think we live in our better world by only seeing what we want to see or by only seeing things that tell us we are right.
Living in a world in which others exist and in which I am not always right is a scary and dangerous world. But that is the world.
Muslims, republicans, disabled people, communists, housewives, rap artists, red necks, and certified public accounts exist. Not all of them can be right, and none of us are right all of the time.
I will not be defined by a season of wanting to have the other team lose. Instead, I want to just do what I can to make the world a little bit better.
It can be done.