Friday, July 6, 2012

The power we have to affect the lives of others.

The other day I was at a store and the cashier said “hi, how are you?” My automatic response was “fine, and how are you?” She seemed startled by my response, her face screwing up into a classically baffled look, and said “I dunno, nobody ever asks me that!” That made me a bit sad. Here was a person who deals with people directly, all day long, who seems surprised when someone actually interacts with her.

Humans are a gregarious species; we thrive when we are together, our words and actions have a direct impact upon those around us – and conversely, the words and actions of others have a direct impact upon us - because we need other people to care about us. It’s so easy to just say a kind, polite word or to give someone a smile, yet too often we simply ignore these basic courtesies, wrapped up in our own world.

Really, it won’t break your ass to be nice to people you run across throughout the day. The notion that all of us are responsible only for ourselves and our own happiness and we can’t be bothered to help someone else feel good about themselves and others has always struck me as narcissistic nonsense. Reaching out to others seems a much better way to be happy, rather than self-centered navel-gazing. I’m not a particularly religious person, but one of the most appealing things about Christ’s sacrifice was that it was done for the good of all. He didn’t yell down from the Cross “I’m doing this for me!” I’ve known a few ostensible Christians who might want to contemplate that.

I believe that wisdom can be found in the most unexpected places, and in keeping with that belief, here is a quote from, of all things, a trailer for the movie “Good Will Hunting” (a movie I didn’t even find particularly interesting, ironically enough):

“Some people can never believe in themselves until someone believes in them.”

When I first heard that, it hit me hard. It seemed, and seems, so true. Too often I’ve heard people say “you have to love yourself before anyone else can love you,” but it rings false to me. It seems like a Hollywood construct – hey folks, Hollywood is made up of narcissistic show-offs with an overabundance of self-absorption; of course they’re gonna tell us we have to love ourselves first! Sometimes it really does take seeing someone else believe in you to cause you to begin to believe in yourself. We are too close to the subject; sometimes we need to see ourselves through the eyes of others to get a clear vision of what is strong and good within us. Sometimes it just takes a bit of reaching out to really affect someone’s life positively.

So say “hi” back to the cashier, and ask her how she’s doing. Call your mom and tell her you love her. Track down an old friend and tell them they’ve been on your mind. Get in touch with that person you’ve sworn not to talk to and patch things up. Because, gang, we don’t live forever, and sometimes time just runs out. Make others feel good while you have the chance.

Yeah, I know, this is all PollyAnna-ish, all sissified ‘n’ shit…

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