I was reminded last week of a magical little thing that happened some eight or nine years ago.
It started with a grocery trip after work one day. I remember that I was feeling particularly peppy. I was loving what I was wearing, my hair was on point, and it had been a satisfying day of coaching. So, I was just bebopping along in the grocery store, smiling at folks open to being smiled at, when I saw a person hunched over a case in the meat department. No doubt I had a bias based on the person being bald and muscled; when combined with the intensive stare at whatever meats were in that case, I recall thinking I would just slip on by that potential interpersonal moment… and then he looked up.
And he smiled.
And he said, “I like your hair!”
And I smiled a little bigger and said, “Thanks!” and kept on rolling only with a little more bop in my going and the vague wonder if I was supposed to have stopped and chatted rather than breaking nary a stride.
I may or may not have remembered that particular interaction except for what happened next:
A couple of weeks later, a client met me at a coffee shop for a session and said she had recently been on my website when her beau looked over her shoulder and said, “That’s her! That’s the person from the grocery store!”
It seems that he had long longed to have casual interactions with strangers, the kind where a brief kindness is shared and everyone moves on. Only, time and again, women had mistaken his kindness as come-on, leaving him feeling lonelier instead of more connected.
In accepting his compliment and continuing about my grocery gathering, I had inadvertently fulfilled a wish for him.
It was such a little thing.
It was such a big thing.
This brief moment of connection;
This mutual mood-inflation.
Conversations about how to make the world a better place are a regular feature of my life, personal and professional. The great frustration of everyone who feels some sense of responsibility in Earth’s improvement is that there’s never enough – never a lever with enough purchase to make the whole lift.
Which is to say: Making one random stranger’s day better – even two people making each other’s day better – can feel like phoning it in when what we really want to see is safety for all trans people or equitability for all people of color or access for all disabled people or, you know, just better for everyone.
As we’re searching for the Big Lever, though, and as that search is leading us to berate ourselves with a chant of not enough, not enough, not enough, we risk missing where we – with whatever our individual limitations of body, reach, bandwidth, finances – are facing a whole array of levers.
Educating ourselves about history and other humans’ experiences is a lever.
Practicing mindfulness or meditation such that we’re both practicing seeing our unconscious biases and training our nervous system to stay in functional places more of the time is a lever.
Challenging others’ problematic speech – whether overtly problematic or problematic due to their blind spots – is a lever.
Seeking out the beautiful and awe-inspiring in the world when our news feeds continue to be shaped around the horrible, and horribly effective, strategy of “if it bleeds, it leads,” is a lever.
Smiling at people in grocery stores is a lever. Hell, being kind to strangers is downright countercultural in a climate that tells us we’re all surrounded by potential enemies all the time.
I was joking with my youngest brother by text yesterday and wrote:
Step 1: practice kindness
Step 3: world peace
Now to uncover step two…
To which he wisely responded, “The problem is, I don’t think there really IS a step two… Step 1 could go a long ways if we did it earnestly.”
In this memoir, Across that Bridge, John Lewis wrote, “They think I am too hopeful, unrealistic, even naïve. But I see myself as a believer who has witnessed the evolution of what others believed would never change.”
Let’s be wonderfully, hopefully, foolishly naïve, friend.
Let’s live as though we can already taste smell hear feel the world we wish to live in.
Let’s live in faith as Congressman Lewis described it:
Faith, to me, is knowing in the solid core of your soul that the work is already done, even as an idea is being conceived in your mind. It is being as sure as you are about your dreams as you are about anything you know as a hard fact… Even if you do not live to see it come to pass, you know without one doubt that it will be.