Friday, April 13, 2012

Show A Little Courtesy and Compassion

    A brief interaction with the gas attendant this morning reiterated the necessity for kindness in our day to day existence. It was nothing special, just my normal friendliness with the guy standing in the cold, pumping my gas. Every time I stop, I make it a point to smile honestly, greet him cheerfully, thank him, and wish him a good day on leaving. Today, he actually engaged me in conversation, nothing particularly meaningful, but pleasant and courteous. For years I have made a concerted effort to always be kind, friendly, cheerful and interactive with the people that are often overlooked as trivial by so many people rushing through their day; the kid stocking shelves at the grocery store, gas station attendants, checkers, maintenance workers, janitors, truck drivers. These are the people thought of as the drones of our society, but in reality they are people just trying to make a living and make it through their day. We all need to take a moment and think how our actions, words and deeds effect those around us. Having a bad day? Don't bark at the the gas attendant. Life sucks? Don't sullenly ignore the clerk's courteous "find everything okay?" Make eye contact. Smile. Say please and thank you. These are all courtesies that were taught (or damned well should have been taught) when we were children. I remember in grade school, a clown that would perform every year doing magic tricks and pratfalls. His Magic Words were "Please and Thank You," and the whole audience had to shout them out to make his magic tricks work. As a kid, I thought it was funny, as an adult I understand the honest truth of it. There is true magic in courtesy and kindness.
    The current state of affairs have everyone and their mother stressed beyond the norm. I know I am. The last few years I have seen my pay cut 35%, the cost of living is soaring, my job is an emotional blackhole, my personal life has had painfully cataclysmic upheavals, I bought my first home despite my meager income, this winter brought a near total mental collapse, and I turned fifty (fucking fifty, fuck). But back when the depth and breadth of the economic collapse became so painfully evident I said over and over, "Now is when we really need to be kind to each other." And I meant it. Truly. Some few have agreed with me. Most seemed to have missed the memo. Some of us, including my crazy coworker, have formed a strong, protective bond. As angry and volatile as both he and I can be over our state of affairs, we never direct any animosity at each other. We talk of our anger, rant, blow off steam, but in a fully commiserating manner. He knows I have his back, and he has mine. At times we feel like soldiers in the trenches, withstanding mortars, surprise attacks, constant gunfire. We have formed a bond, a soldierly bond created by the knowledge of safety in numbers, and a common enemy.
    Walking the streets, reading the news, driving the freeways, there seems to be an underlying current of anger almost everywhere you turn. There is hostility building, a common thread of impotent rage, that runs through society. As stress levels rise from constant, unending economic hardship, job instability, national and international conflicts, uncertainty, crisis after crisis, the rage simmers with no viable outlet. We see eruptions, over-reactions, outlashing, violence in the streets. These are the strident cries of frightened people. People feeling trapped, hopeless, terrified, angry, enraged, and yet impotent and confused. And as the fearful masses look to their leaders for hope and inspiration what they see is political infighting, anger, hostility, finger pointing, squabbling over minutiae, cutting benefits, attacking civil rights, trying to enforce the "will of god." It has become a chaotic nightmare at every level. Imagine a room full of injured, frightened children, needing comfort, and all the adults can do is fight amongst themselves, ignoring the cries of the children. We are feeling vulnerable and alone.
    And so, as I see it, the need for kindness, compassion, understanding and courtesy is at an all time high. But demand has far exceeded the supply. We are in a spiritual crises that far outweighs our economic woes. Sadly, the only reason that supply is short is because we choose to not share what we have. We each have enough love and compassion in our hearts, enough kindness, enough courtesy, for thousands. And yet we become miserly with our abundance, as if sharing kindness will somehow diminish our supply. I know that the more love I share, the more I possess, and the more I have to share. It is a renewable energy source that outshines the sun. To take that 10 seconds to say "Please and Thank You." Just a smile, eye contact, a nod. The briefest exchange, acknowledging their humanity, sharing a bit of your own.
    People, we are in crisis. We need to stop looking to others for our salvation. We need to look within ourselves, find the kindness and compassion in our hearts, share our bounty with others. Sow the seeds of understanding and courtesy, so we can reap the harvest of spiritual health, mental growth, inner strength, emotional stability. It is neither a difficult nor arduous chore, it is a pleasure we all need to remember. A pleasure to be shared.        

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