You need no reminder of how much our current moment is filled and fueled by public and private disrespect. Instead, I shall offer guidance to a life less vulnerable to giving and receiving discourtesy and help you make it so.
Small steps within your power. Though modest, they can be life-enhancing.
Such changes present the chance to enlarge our humanity and agency while reducing the sense of isolation, fear, and distrust.
Reflections on How You Feel and Behave:
Consider the pace and pressure of life. If we pile up our existence with a tower of obligations, errands, and responsibilities, our much-desired calm, thoughtfulness, and room for others become elusive. Yes, we have inescapable demands, but most realize we also occupy ourselves with inessentials.
Perhaps it is worth reflecting on what is necessary and what is superfluous. We can free ourselves from the shackled and abnormal routine that has become the norm: texting, emailing, tweeting, and looking into the pixels of our attachment to the computer god. We observe its icons on our desks and in our hands.
Will triple scoops of virtual contact with people a thousand miles away leave a lick of the ice cream cone for those we love or might discover nearby?
Prepare for Respecting Others by Respecting Yourself:
Do we eat well, exercise, or trust that our bodies will quietly accept years of ill-tending and inattention?
The sun-gifted glories of the natural world wait for us, but the computer deity shades our lives as an autocrat might. He cares not whether we will be touch-starved, with only a memory of human sighs, breath, fragrance, and torsos extending beneath our line of sight. Are we practicing to be cave dwellers?
Remember that our lanternless ancestors lived by the hours of the sun and invested in the earth with cooperative others who were not chained to a desk.
Might we reorganize who we have become and are becoming? No one ever offered these last words: “I should have spent more time in my home office — like the best years of my life.” Nor does anyone define shopping as leading to anything resembling the richness possible in our brief time here.
Calming and Centering Yourself:
Treating ourselves with respect and kindness opens the possibility of service and duty to another. In time, this can become a prioritized source of mutual joy.
Before we can have benign emotions, we must recognize what is impeding us, what gnaws, irritates, or angers us. Think of a stone pitched into a placid lake, spreading ripples lasting well beyond the time required to make the toss.
Those who analyze their day may find it helpful to think about mood-changing moments. Where, when, why, and how did the sky darken or the clouds part? With whom? Doing what?
Therapists ask patients about the patterns of their lives — disappointments and repetitive relationship challenges. They wish to understand the kind of people one chooses to spend time with and those with whom one falls in love. When our mistakes persist, the critical question to us becomes, what does that cost you?
The knots into which we tie ourselves restrict our capacity to embrace those who might appreciate us and wish for our friendship, laughter, and romance. Tied to a rope of our invention, we are prisoners who desire freedom but offer ourselves to enslavement.
Civility and concern beyond our own troubles become more burdensome in a body and brain tightened and twisted into a coil, like a spring-loaded jack-in-the-box.
We need hands to hold and a friend to embrace. Consider the dour cashier at the end of an endless grocery checkout lane. What do a smile and a thoughtful word of thanks to this person cost? Smiling and speaking another’s name enrich the human joint bank account, where withdrawals only add to the wealth of all involved in the transaction.
Social Life and Conversation:
Especially when parts of the world outside are in conflict, we must do our best to avoid abrasiveness and inconsideration elsewhere. Take lunch. What happens when we fail to prefer the sight of our partner or friend to the latest intrusion of the phone? Do we reach for the phone, or does the phone reach for us? Hard to tell.
Still, no couple reserves a table for three or four, where the inanimate placeholders get their feelings hurt.
When a get-together begins, do we become impatient to speak? Waiting allows us to hear the voice, watch the expression, and listen to the ideas of a person of value. Few are pleased to be cut off, cut short, and talked over, unseen and unknown.
We can find better ways to express affection and interest in a companion’s well-being, emotional life, and opinions. Dismissing the other’s words leads to the poverty of our intellect — the assumption we needn’t understand one more thing or one more of our fellow women or men.
Slowing the conversation is a paradoxical alternative. A silent interval when your partner expects an audible response can exert control over the moment and create an opportunity to interject the thought, “where are we going?” Two people working together can reimagine and change what happens.
It is within our power to ask the counterpart politely whether he is ready to listen and what would be a mutually satisfying interchange. It is OK to express the desire to talk about something important and ask that he remain attentive.
No one wishes to be just another checkmark on the daily to-do list.
Seeing Yourself in the Other:
We categorize and rate everything. Race, religion, nationality, homes, jobs, salaries, etc. We see too much that is different and too little that we share.
An unreflective mind starts at home, where he recognizes people he loves and steps past the homeless to return as if they are as inhuman as the cardboard boxes in which some of them live. Recent fMRI research tells us that they register in our brains like furniture.
We fight over differences. In lands where individuality is encouraged, one person can be at odds with most of humanity, trying to be #1. All others be damned, sometimes literally.
The planetary situation finds wealth accumulation on one side and child malnutrition and disease on the other. Finger-pointing leaves the unfortunate judged for their misfortune. It also leaves the wealthy vilified for their good luck.
We conclude the other does not believe in the right god or any god; they are immoral, culturally or genetically inferior, and poor managers of themselves.
Meanwhile, we keep our closets well-stocked with towels to wash our hands of responsibility, silently repeating Pontius Pilate’s words, “I am innocent of the blood of this person.” Or perhaps, our hand washing resembles Lady Macbeth without her sleeplessness and guilt.
If we focus only on what we do not like in those who are different, what will become of us in a world of shorter supply, insufficient clean water, climate change, and the reduced availability of liveable spaces?
Consider whether we, in the most encompassing sense, would be better off seeing ourselves in the other and recognizing our capacity to embrace the shared responsibility of well-being for our children, our fellows, and every creature Noah was told deserved a place in the ark.
God did not say, “those living beings are on their own.”
If we can, might we try to see that even the resentment and desperation of people are sometimes justified? They, too, wish for more than blame, disregard, mistreatment, and self-righteous indignation.
If we cannot, we are lost.
Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Bridge of San Luis Rey, ends this way: “There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”
The first image is a photo of Dave Garroway, the original anchor of the Today Show on NBC. According to Wikipedia, Garroway’s “easygoing and relaxing style belied a lifelong battle with depression.” In 1960, reviewer Richard F. Shepard of The New York Times wrote, “He does not crash into the home with the false jollity and thunderous witticisms of a backslapper. He is pleasant, serious, scholarly looking, and not obtrusively convivial.” As the picture displays, Garroway’s signoff included the word peace and his upraised palm.
The second picture is the Offering of a Handshake, created by Pixabay. Finally, the sculpture by Ian Capper is called Embracing the Sea. All of these were sourced from Wikimedia Commons.