What’s the first thing you do every morning? I used to stretch, touch my toes and take a few deep breaths. Now I instinctively reach for my iPhone to see what new disaster looms on the horizon. And so the day begins.
All day, every day, intermittent news alerts flash across our screens. Incessant tweets distract us. Each broadcaster touts his segment as “breaking news.”
One natural disaster tumbles after another. Headlines scream out at us. Icons and leaders are charged with corruption. Traditions are crumbling. Institutional bedrocks are being challenged.
My friends tell me:
“I wake up every morning dreading reading the headlines.”
“I’ve stopped watching the news altogether.”
“I can’t hear one more person’s tragic situation. It’s too depressing.”
“It’s one crisis and disaster after another. When will it stop?”
We are splitting our attention in so many ways, that we often don’t truly hear each other. And we need to hear each other.
Hearing is the opportunity to be heard, to present one’s side of a case, or to be generally known or appreciated. Listening is to hear something with thoughtful attention.
“The key to the art of listening is selectivity,” states Wilferd A. Peterson in The Art of Living. “You decide what you will accept… listen critically… with an open mind… no matter how much you disagree, for you may learn something.”
We can encourage our elected officials to bring us together to look for and find common ground, so all sides can be heard.
We can organize and take part in impassioned debates, among diverse sub-sets of citizens – perhaps through our houses of worship?
We can dialogue, thrash out, work through and come up with new ideas. And we can build on these new foundations.
We, as individuals, can share our stories. Here’s mine:
It’s was a freaky dark night. My husband, son, dog and I fled from our Florida home to avoid the looming threat of Hurricane Irma. At a McDonalds in Valdosta, Georgia, we stopped for a caffeine fix.
Two things happened then. First, a rather dowdy-looking, non-descript middle-aged woman waited on me. Her one, very noticeable feature were extraordinary blue eyes. And she went to great lengths to urge me to order the large coffee rather than the small size because they both were the same price.
The second thing that happened: A surge of appreciation suffused my body at her kind sharing of that information. But I was tired. Stressed from the abrupt fleeing of our home. Distraught over possible storm surge from the bay two blocks away from our house. I was fearful about the shortage of gas we might face in the coming hours on the freeway.
A useful tidbit. But, I simply paid for my coffee, stifled the compliment on her eyes floating around in my brain, uttered a perfunctory thank you and walked out.
It was a missed opportunity to connect with a stranger on a human level. She was talking. She was reaching out. And I was not really listening. Nor responding.
My high school chum Marcia – unlike me – did rise to the occasion, at a Wendy’s in Fresno, California. This is her story, which she posted on Facebook…
We are leaving and see a family of eight at the register. I hear the girl behind the register say, “What would you like?” This very tall young strapping guy, who is obviously the father, asks, “What’s the cheapest thing you have on the menu?”
Chuck and I looked at each other at the same time. We were both thinking the same thing. I said, “I got this.”
I went up to the counter and said, “Get anything you want for the whole family.” They all looked at me like I was their savior. Hugging and kissing me. They asked if I was Christian. They were surprised to find out I was Jewish.
Base on their reaction, I don’t believe they had ever met anybody Jewish. We had a little discussion about the Jewish New Year and my beliefs and their beliefs.
This father of six told me that Jesus had turned his life around. He had been on drugs and living on the street with his family, and that this was a glorious day for him. This was also a glorious day for me, and the start of a Happy New Year!
Like Marcia and Chuck, we can seize the moment. We can’t respond empathetically to everything, but we can stop the habitual bitching. Cursing. Moaning. Groaning. Handwringing. The tuning out and away from.
Our antennae can be trained to raise our awareness of need, and actively search out ways to be kind and generous.
We can remove the tunnel vision that blinds us to everything but our own immediate goals and agendas. We can fight the urge to curl up, cocoon and turn a blind eye to our fellow citizens’ needs and perspectives.
We can get out of our own way. Break out of our own silo. Pay attention. And rise to action in a helpful way.
We can be a hero.
We can make someone’s day.
“The planet does not need more successful people. The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds.”– Dalai Lama
Please share what good things you have done to make our world and our country a better place. Have you ever reached out to a stranger in a moment of kindness? You are welcome to join the conversation below.