The age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists and calculators has succeeded.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Goldenrod and the 4-H stone

I think it's very easy to undervalue people because you don't know their full story. Clearly, we can't even have a perfect understanding of the tribulations facing people we know very well... but what about the judgments we make about acquaintances, people we work for or with, people sharing the crowded confines of public transport, people brushing past in shop doorways, telesales reps who call from a witheld number on your mobile just as you've taken the much-savoured last bite of your doughnut, forcing you to swallow it without enjoying it properly...
I really feel compelled to try and change my behaviour because of things I've learnt today. Someone I know has been in so much pain, and hardly complained. They've continued to work tirelessly, had time for my daft side-projects, been forgiving when I perfumed their office with prawn flavoured noodles, and maintained a cheery grin throughout. I can't work out whether that's just what happens as you get more mature- you conceal your own problems so everyone else can function without worry, you allow others wider margins for error than you allow yourself.
It is also so, so easy to take people for granted. It's an awful cliche, but I've been considering how I would have felt if I'd never known about this person's problems, and never had a chance to say thanks for all the small kindnesses they've shown me. That's probably a bit too melodramatic for some, but with changes happening all around me, friends moving on to different stages of their lives, friends moving closer together and further apart, people re-negotiating their lives and their identities, I don't have an excuse not to be humane to everyone, no matter how foul I'm feeling.
Three years ago, I was serving behind the counter in my university shop when I noticed a girl had been standing in front of the tins of beans for about five minutes, not moving. When she eventually came to the till, I noticed she'd been crying- and it was the least I could do to get her some tissues, and ask if there was anything I could do to help. She shook her head without saying anything and left the shop- but about three months later the same girl tapped me on the shoulder as I was walking through an underpass and thanked me. I said I didn't think I'd done anything- but apparently just asking was enough to help her feel better.
Today, it isn't acceptable to be seen showing emotion outside of a very limited circle. My father goes to a mens' retreat one weekend a year, which is apparently one of the only places where men of his generation feel comfortable enough to cry in public, to talk about their fear that they might not provide for their families, about their problems communicating with their kids, about the pressures and expectations they deal with everyday. On my train today, there was a woman of about fifty sitting across the carriage from me, wearing a suit, who kept her dark glasses firmly fixed on throughout the journey- and it was only when I saw her shoulders shaking that I realised she was crying.
I'm not saying that we should, or could, wear our hearts on our sleeves at any given opportunity. Neither am I suggesting that by offering someone a kleenex you can solve their problem- (and it would very stupid of me to suggest this, unless the reason they were upset was because they had dolloped jam from their doughnut on their silk jacket whilst trying to take a telesales call). Rather, what I think is that I need to be more forgiving, generous and compassionate with the people surrounding me on a daily basis. Hopefully that might help, in some tiny way. the feeling of lonliness or vulnerability that stop people being able to ask for help when they need it. Graciousness in the face of minor irritation has never come easily to me, and there definitely has to be something more I can give, but I suppose tolerance is a start.


Blogger A Pea Called Loweese said...

nicely said!!! =]


i feel like that on trains a lot. and hope that other people think like that too.


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