I was sitting on the train today observing the humans around me. Everyone’s eyes were fixed on their phone screens with the occasional book thrown into the mix. I was guilty, too; I stared at my iPhone, switching to the next song on my playlist. As I looked around it dawned on me: we don’t treat each other like people anymore. We go through life looking at other humans like artifacts; mere objects in the room. We forget how amazing we all are. We forget that the people around us are interesting. They are complicated. They have stories. These people live, breathe, and love just like we do. I think it’s time we start acknowledging that.
Here are some simple ways we can start treating people like people again.
Thank your train conductor/bus driver/cabbie. – Sometimes we forget that when we step on a train, or hop in the back of the cab, there is a person operating our means of transportation. Sometimes, we let that small glass window between driver and passenger create a distinction and give us an excuse to undeservingly demote someone to a lower level than us. I know you’re in a rush, or you had a very long and terrible day, but maybe they did, too. It’s easy to say thank you or ask how someone’s day went, and it takes less than two seconds. I’ve come to realize that train conductors are some of the friendliest people when you offer thanks, or ask them how their day is going. It’s not kindness, it’s courtesy.
Acknowledge people suffering from homelessness. – Through my work, I’ve met various individuals who have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives. The hardest part, they said, was how people no longer looked at them like they were human. These people are someone’s mother, father, son, daughter, sister, brother, and friend. These people are someone. Looking at them may be hard; it is hard to look at a problem within society and resist the urge to look away. I understand that. However, if you can’t offer them food, warmth, or shelter, offer a smile or conversation.
Acknowledge wait staff. – You’re at dinner catching up with an old friend and are completely wrapped up in conversation with them. That’s great. Speaking as a former waitress, I’ve done the walk up to the table and awkwardly join in with the eruption of laughter whilst trying to slip in a plug about dessert. It’s uncomfortable, we know. It’s also part of the job. We know we weren’t invited to your dinner–but we’re here–so bear with us. When servers awkwardly hover around your table, acknowledge their presence. Also, when that floating hand comes by to fill up your water glass, a small thank you is always appreciated.
Compliment a stranger. – Okay, so this one might seem a bit odd. However, shouldn’t we acknowledge and appreciate each other more often? The other day, while on my way to the train, a girl said, “pretty hair,” to me. I was so taken aback that I took out my headphones and said, “what?” I thought she was asking for directions or warning me of some oncoming traffic. When she repeated the compliment, it made my day. It was such a small thing for her to say, but so unexpected and nice to hear. Offering small compliments and showing appreciation for each other helps add excitement to our day and remind us that we should value the people in the world around us.
If you can, help people. – It doesn’t matter if you’re helping a little old lady cross the road, picking up a glove someone dropped, or helping someone reach the top shelf; helping is helping. It is so rare for us to go out of our way for others anymore. When people do go out of their way, it is so atypical it gets shared in Facebook posts, and sometimes even news outlets. Leaving a waitress a large tip, buying a person on the street a warm coffee, carrying someone’s groceries to their car: these are all manageable things. We have the power to be the catalysts for the change we want to see.
Practice good patience. – So the lady in front of you at the supermarket is holding up the whole line. First, she can’t find her debit card. Then, she thinks her deli meat was charged incorrectly. Finally, she takes a phone call and forgets to approve the amount on her card. By the time the whole process is over, you’re clenching your fists in the checkout aisle. We are imperfect beings who lack patience and understanding for others. However, many times when this fuse gets short, we take it out on others. The cashier is not the person you should be rolling your eyes at and speaking to shortly. The server that brought you undercooked fish wasn’t the one frying it in the back, either. Also, believe it or not, the hotel manager didn’t switch your shower water to cold just to mess with you. Every single day our patience is tested. The hotel manager you yell at is going to go home and yell at her boyfriend, who will in turn yell at his mother. Our actions cause reactions; the bad and good things we do have the power to create positive and negative butterfly effects.
These examples are extremely limited. They do not even begin to scratch the surface for the ways we can start treating each other better. Life is hard. This article won’t end any wars. It won’t stop world hunger. But maybe you’ll make someone’s day tomorrow, or maybe someone will make yours. Sometimes the world is a really scary, ugly, and a seemingly unfair place. It is so hard that sometimes we forget we are in it together.