I work at a college and I would estimate that 85% (maybe more) of the people walking around campus have earbuds in, most are also looking at their phones.
I’m not throwing stones here. I’m one of the 85% with earbuds in. I’m usually listening to a podcast — making use of the time spent walking to meetings or interviews or my car.
That said, I make a real effort to make eye contact with anyone who passes me. The vast majority never look up, or never look at me, but every once in awhile, I’m rewarded with someone who does. There’s a brief connection, usually a small smile, an acknowledgement of each others’ existence.
I think these tiny connections matter, maybe now more than ever.
The world feels so mean these days. So angry. So isolated. So polarized. So overwhelmed. So irritated by everything and everyone.
But, I think the silver lining is that it doesn’t take much to turn that around. People expect so little of one another today that when you put the smallest bit of kindness or positive energy out there, people suck it up like sunshine in February.
Last week, I had an interview in the student union. It was lunchtime and so, the place was bustling with students. I stopped in the restroom and when I got out, a line had formed. Young women with blank expressions and earbuds in. One of them had on a really cute tartan skirt, which I complimented with a quick and genuine: “I love your skirt.”
And just like that, her entire face lit up and I got a wide smile and a “Thank you.”
She felt good. I felt good. It’s that easy to make another person feel good.
Why aren’t we doing that all the time?
I had a few minutes before my interview, so I stopped at the Starbucks counter.
“I only brought $4 with me, can I get a medium mocha with that?” I asked.
“Uh, no…a medium is $4.50,” she said.
“Oh, OK, well, then, just a small, I guess,” I said.
She rings it up and says: “$4.12.”
I stand there awkwardly holding my $4….patting my pockets like I’m going to find change there.
A student waiting for her order, steps in with her change purse, digs out a quarter and hands it to me.
“Thank you so much,” I said. “I guess I should’ve just got a regular coffee.”
“No problem,” she said. “I’ve been there and coffee is always better with chocolate.”
That evening, I met with a friend to walk. She joined me late because she likes to visit her uncle at a local nursing home on Mondays.
She told me how much her visits have come to mean to the other residents there, too. She’s made friends, of course.
There’s a resident that likes a certain kind of soda. She always picks one up on the way.
“And you know what? It costs me like $1 to make him so happy,” she said. “They are so happy for the smallest things — like even just asking about their day or listening to them for five minutes.”
It doesn’t take much — a compliment, a question, a smile, .12 cents, a can of soda — to make life just slightly better for another person.
What if we all just made an effort to do that instead of tearing each other apart all the time? Especially now….in this season that is supposed to be “merry” but is all to often harried, frustrating, overwhelming, and sad for many.
How can you make it better? What can you do to not make things worse?
It usually doesn’t take much at all.
About Just Write: Just Write is my adaptation of free writing, a technique in which a person writes continuously and quickly without little regard for spelling, grammar, or topic. It helps writers overcome blocks of apathy and explore everything from meaningful topics to mundane observations with the same effort and without the pressure of crafting perfect prose. I just start writing.
“What ends up revealing itself when free writing is that everything has meaning. That is a magnificent gift of writing. If we write from a free heart-gut place, our souls start speaking.”