I notice more and more that people are so concerned with where they want to go, that it doesn’t seem to concern them who they have to step over to get there. It sounds dramatic, but to me, it seems to ring true in many parts of life. From charging through a street congested with parked cars without regard for anyone else, to achieving career goals in a competitive industry. An old school view of this might say that people have lost common courtesies, but I think it goes a little deeper. I believe people still know how to be courteous, but for many out there it’s about how those manners can get them more quickly to their destination, rather than for the simple pleasure of being polite. And more than this, if an act of courtesy won’t help in this goal, then it’s often forgotten or neglected as unimportant.
There’s a misconception out there that living a mindful life precludes having lofty goals. The thought process there runs something like this: “If I’m living in the present moment, then how can I plan for the future?” In reality, mindfulness is completely different to this idea. Mindfulness doesn’t mean that you never think about the past or that you don’t have goals for the future. In fact, learning from your past and planning for your future are integral to its success as a way of living. I like to think about it this way. I know where I want to go and I have planned out some steps to get there. And I am most likely to get to the place where I want to go if I do what I am doing now with presence, concentration and faith in myself. You might say that this flies in the face of the Buddhist philosophy around desire and it being the root of all suffering. Well, firstly, I’m not Buddhist. Secondly, I’m of the belief that it’s blind desire without a plan that causes suffering. The fact is that having goals with a plan gives you the freedom to live in the moment and be happy. Because you know where you’re headed, and you know you’re doing what you can right now to get there.
But I digress. We’re talking about simple manners here and not making excuses for people to be focused solely on their own desires. I’m really keen to not come across as judgemental here. And I’m waging a constant battle to strip my life of situations where I have expectations of others. But just like any relationship, society only works well if all parties contribute. So rather than place expectations and judgements upon others, I have made it my goal to spread gratitude whenever I can. And I’m noticing more that gratitude has an impact – I wonder what could happen if everyone expressed their thanks out loud instead of spending all their time in their own head!
From the simple couple of fingers lifted from the steering wheel to say thanks, to showing deep appreciation for someone when they do something they didn’t have to, I think that simple gestures of thanks are far more powerful than they first appear. They have the power to change someone’s day! Think about it this way – imagine you smile at a shop assistant, look them in the eyes and say a genuine thank you. What if you are the only person in their day that has shared a smile? When an older man drops something on the ground and you help him by picking it up, he says thank you and you look him in the eyes, smile and tell him he’s very welcome. You don’t know any stranger’s story, but if there’s a chance that your smile and manners have made a difference, wouldn’t you want to take that chance? A smile and a few simple words have the potential to turn someone’s day around.
If you’re still not convinced, that’s ok with me. No judgement here. Because there’s more. You see, walking around with this power makes you feel pretty good too. The knowledge that you have tried to engage and connect with people through a smile and a few words can bring you out of your own thoughts and to do lists and give you a sense of being part of something. And true joy doesn’t come from receiving (unless you’re so completely self-centred – then I’m sorry that this post is beyond you!), it comes from what we can give. If you don’t believe me, I implore you to just give it a try. For the next couple of days, why not use your manners, express your gratitude at every single opportunity. Just to see what happens. Every time you meet someone working in a service, even if they don’t do something directly or solely for you. Every time you have a nice conversation with a friend. Every time your loved one hugs you. Just take the opportunities that present themselves to connect with a smile and a few kind words. And be genuine. Believe in it. Simply being aware of the blessings we have and the role that others playing those is formidable. You never know how you might change someone’s day for the better – even your own.