I was listening to the Ted Radio Hour in my car the other day on my way to the gym. The episode was about compassion–where it comes from and how we can become better at it. A piece of the episode struck me. A man was talking about how when we see people who are living on the streets asking for help, we often avoid eye contact.
Just as the man was talking about this phenomenon, I was sitting at the intersection where Glendale meets Alvarado where almost every day I avoid eye contact with any number of people asking for money or food. Sometimes I also give–when the mood strikes me, or when it’s easy. But for the most part I avoid eye contact.
And now the guy on the radio was calling me out on it. Why do I avoid eye contact??
Then I remembered one day at that very intersection not too long ago when I was in the car with Jason and Ida. Jason was driving. We stopped at the red light and the same homeless man who is often at that light began to weave through the cars asking for spare change. At the moment that he was approaching our car, Jason rolled down the window, looked up at him, smiled and said hello. I remember a sinking feeling of awkwardness. We didn’t have any cash on us, and Jason wasn’t going to give the man anything, so wasn’t it awkward to roll down the window and say hi??
I often smile and say hi to strangers. I do it on my morning jogs around the reservoir. I do it at cafes and shops, hell I have full on conversations with strangers on the internet all the time, so why did I feel the need to not even make eye contact with this man? And not only not make eye contact but go so far as to feel embarrassed or awkward when my husband does?
I asked Jason why he rolled the window down and said hello to the guy when we had nothing to give and his response went something like “why should I use someone’s neediness as an excuse not to acknowledge them?” And he is right. Smiles, greetings and acknowledgement can go such a long way in someone’s day, in someone’s life–and it is giving something. It’s actually the most simple and basic and human thing to give–
Why was I depriving greetings and smiles to people who may need it the most?
This is the reminder that I want to channel as I enter 2015. I am SO fortunate. I have so much. My life is so rich, so abundant. We all face challenges, we all deserve compassion, smiles and simple acknowledgement that we are all human, and that we are all in this together.
Happy holidays my friends. Thank you for being here. I appreciate you.