I recently met a Unitarian minister who said that most ministers tend to give the same sermon over and over again. It might be called different things, and might come at the topic in hundreds of ways, but essentially there is one area that is most near to each minister’s heart and so they continue to share that message for most of their career. He said that his was “Use Your Life,” and after hearing him preach, I could see how this was true, even though that wasn’t the title or theme of the sermon I saw him give.
I’m not a Unitarian minister and chances are I will never become one (although I haven’t entirely ruled out the possibility yet) but I’ve come to realize that I have a personal theme that is akin to this minister’s single sermon topic.
I believe deeply, strongly and with the conviction of my entire person that it is vital to treat other people lovingly. All the time. It doesn’t matter whether you know them or they are a complete stranger. There is never any reason to treat others in a manner that is cruel, dismissive or lacking in basic respect.
I spent most of today working on a paper and at about 2 pm started to hit a wall. Always protective of my personal sanity, I decided to combine a few errands and get out of my apartment and away from my computer for a little while. What I experience while out in the world was a series of events where it was clearly demonstrated how choosing to be loving makes life more enjoyable.
My first stop was the bank. I know just about everyone at my little branch and for the most part they know me. Going there makes me feel like I live in a village instead of a densely populated section of Philadelphia. When I walked in one checker was with a customer and the other was seemingly unoccupied. I waited to be called over by the one without a customer, but no call came for several seconds. Finally he looked up at me and asked me to wait for just a few more moments. I said fine and continued to stand in the lobby, one hand tucked in my pocket while the other one clutched my deposit. When he finally called me over, I went and slide my documents over to him. He had a tight look on his face, like he was expecting to receive some annoyance or disgruntlement because he had kept me waiting. He processed my stuff and finally looked me in the eye to ask if there was anything else he could do. I smiled widely, told him I was all set and thanked him. The constipated look on his face disappeared, he smiled back and told me to have a good day.
Later I was at the little produce market on 20th Street to restock my stores of citrus and brussel sprouts (two of my dietary staples these days). A man had entered just in front of me and I watched as he piled his arms high with pink grapefruits. He didn’t use a bag, and when one tumbled away, he realized he was stuck because he couldn’t bend down to pick it up without losing the others he held. I grabbed a plastic bag and help it open while he lowered his grapefruit in one by one. We exchanged a smiling series of “thank you” and “you’re welcome” and went our own ways.
We both left the store at about the same time, and I watched as he walked to his car, because the woman in the car in front of his was screaming. She was yelling about how he had parked her in and how she had called the cops to have him towed. He hurried to move his car, as she screamed and yelled. He started yelling back. There faces were red and they both looked like at any minute they were going to whip out the tire irons and go at it. I walked towards home, feeling a little sad that I had just seen the reversal of all the good feelings I had been experiencing.
As I walked up to the front door of my building, I heard running footsteps behind me. A man delivering a cane to one of the senior citizens in the building (I never knew that they delivered canes right to your door before) came right up behind me, but then stopped, opened the door and said to me, “Ladies always go first, especially the pretty ones.”* That little interaction shifted me back, gave me a little taste of what I had been trying to put out all afternoon and it felt fantastic.
All I’m trying to express here is that being kind to people feels good. It feels so good that I don’t understand why this isn’t catching on more quickly, because who wouldn’t want to feel this good? It’s taken me a long time to learn, but I’ve gotten to the point where I understand that I choose how I perceive things. If I want to feel bad about them I will, but if I don’t want to feel bad or frustrated or angry that I don’t have. When you treat people lovingly, it will never be an act in vain. That love will always return to you. And who doesn’t want heaps of love coming back to them?
*Not that I believe that men necessarily need to open doors for women, pretty or not, but it was a really nice gesture and was delivered in a way that felt sincere.
I love your take on this. I tend to be a very laid back errand runner (letting people in front of me and such) and also have adopted a philosophy of not taking your suck mood out on support staff such as bus drivers and cashiers. I feel it is well worth it to paste on the smile and greet/interact as if I am having the best day ever, and seeing their pleasantness gives my mood a little pop up as well.
I like it!
According to Scott Peck (Road Less Traveled), there is the essence of laziness in humans which counteracts the will to put yourself outside of your personal space in order to do that good deed, to extend yourself, to show love (and by doing so, risk being hurt). Life (capital L) is a constant battle against this laziness.
Another way to see this is an issue of trust and of control. If you wish to control your life entirely, you can’t give up anything to someone else. If you don’t trust others, you can’t risk them harming you. Life is a constant struggle to build trust in your fellow human, and to relinquish enough control such that you get back what you invest (risk) in others, sometimes in strange ways, sometimes in multiple ways.
While kindness is certainly rewarding, and beyond worth the effort, anger and rudeness has a way of just sucking people in. It’s not that laziness keeps us from being kind, as rudeness takes as much, likely more, energy. The people of Philadelphia provide daily reminders of both how and how not to behave lovingly, frequently within the same outing/bus ride/elevator trip. You really capture that spirit.
Hence, what our tattoos stand for… 😉
See, this is the original reason I started getting to work extra early every day. I grew up being grumpy in the mornings. I would take out the grumpiness on my family. Later in life I did it to housemates. Now, I get up early, go to work early, and by the time I have to interact with people I have had time to adjust to being awake and I can be pleasant!
However, it is now actually mostly habit, and about 5 other people get to work before I do, and I am much better at being pleasant even when I don’t FEEL pleasant, so it is not so important anymore.
Thank you for writing about this–maybe more people will pick up the idea!
its so nice when you can actually make someones day by just being a human being.