Every day we make choices. What we don’t always see is how these choices encourage us to fall into patterns more easily than we realise. This can be a result of how the world around us happens to be functioning at the time, rather than us finding useful ways to do things and building productive habits around them.
A lot of my life’s philosophy can be boiled down to how we choose to walk on the footpath. Because it is a choice. I’ve been bandying around the idea of writing a book using this very analogy. Most of us in this world understand there is a sort of etiquette required when walking anywhere, so it can be helpful to look at this first and then relate it to other areas of our lives.
Point 1. Give each other space.
When walking on the footpath, move to the side. When we are walking by ourselves it can be tempting to walk in the middle even when there are people around us, walking in both directions, faster or slower than we are. Forge a conscientious path in your mind so when there are people around walking to the side is already habitual. When we do walk past people, or people walk past us, this will mean we have created space for the interaction to happen comfortably. In New Zealand we drive on the left-hand side of the road. Thus we also walk on the left-hand side of the footpath most of the time. Having this in mind will reduce the chances of an awkward interaction where both people move to one side, then the other, then back again, then both stop. Leaving space for others doesn’t have to be to your detriment either. If you feel up to it engage with a simple smile or a nod in greeting, and showing your appreciation for the gesture.
In other areas of life leaving space is just as important. We have our own unique skills but sometimes trying to perfect one thing before moving on can limit growth. Music groups give each member a chance to shine. As an example, take the bass player away from many bands and the sound will lose more than we might think. When writing a song, sometimes I can hear the sound in my head but can’t find it to record. If I leave it for a while, and come back to it, the solution has often found itself. Similarly, I’ve started writing several books and until this year always stopped before finishing them. I’m realising that putting them to one side is not abandoning them, but giving them space to breathe and grow as my subconscious mulls over the ideas, and characters, and events within. There is only so far a brute force approach to editing and revising can get you!
Point 2. Abandon the herd mentality.
Doing what everyone else is doing just because they’re doing it is an easy option, and often not the best one. When we’re in a big group walking along the footpath it’s easy to forget about how we’re walking. We’re likely involved in conversation about where we’ve come from or where we’re going. Almost without realising it, the group can spread out and take up the whole width of the footpath, making it difficult for other individuals or groups to pass, in either direction. We must open our awareness. We must remember a footpath is a shared space, and engage in the micro-interactions with other walkers by acknowledging their existence and giving them space. Walk in front or behind members of our group for a time if we need to. We will still be able to hear because human ears are wonderful things, and less dependent on the direction of sounds than some animals. Being a conscientious member of our group will help healthy interactions take place.
This holds true in other areas of our lives. At work we might share an office or a floor and need to be aware of how we make use of common areas and leave them tidy. If we work in a large organisation we are part of something bigger than ourselves, so shedding any entitlement we have will help us interact more openly. Just because common areas are left in a particular way, or colleagues make particular decisions, does not mean these are the right choices for us. When playing sport, especially with an independent referee, there can be a temptation to feel hard done by when a call goes against our team. If multiple players on the same team encourage each other this feeling can escalate. The soccer team I’m playing with at the moment makes it easy to abandon this mentality and remember every person on the field is human. Every player and official is doing their best to make each game enjoyable, win, lose, or draw.
Point 3. Pay attention.
Walking in a busy urban area can be a harrowing experience. It doesn’t have to be. A good step is to cut down on distractions. Having our phone out and headphones on while walking is common practice these days, and what we’re listening to can help calm our mind or keep the worries of the world at bay. This can also prevent us from perceiving important sounds around us. Most notably in urban areas when it comes to large, fast-moving, metal storage containers. Vehicles are useful but we as a pedestrian we must take care around them. Whenever we come to an intersection we need to pay attention to what’s around us. We may have right of way, and the cars may even be facing a red light, but that will not stop some cars from moving anyway. Be vigilant and make sure we know what we’re doing. This way, even if we make a poor decision, our body language will help others make good decisions around us.
At intersections especially, stop, actively look up from your phone, take a headphone out and make absolutely certain it is safe to cross. In other areas of our life we need to hear what is going on around us, too, so we can make good decisions and follow where we are being led. I love writing. Absolutely love spending my time doing it. If I don’t spend some of every day writing I feel something in my life is missing. Physical exercise is great, playing video games and watching TV is fun, improving my skills with my guitar is fulfilling, but if I don’t write something—and it can literally be anything—that emptiness takes hold. It fades the next time I pick up a pen or sit down at the keyboard, but it is a gentle reminder of what makes me, me.
Point 4. Listen.
In a world where we are quick to speak to put forth our own point of view we need to make a conscious effort to listen. And, when we listen, we must do our best to hear what the other person is saying before we formulate our response. I see this as similar to reading a book, especially one which requires deep thought. My mind is prone to wandering. This means my mind can drift and fail to take in what I’m reading. I might even have to re-read a passage several times to take it in. When I fully focus on the words I’m reading it is a more fulfilling experience—whether I like the book or not! If we let our mind drift in conversation we won’t catch the full meaning of what a person is saying and may try to fill in the gaps ourselves. This is not a reliable solution. Listen, and hear, and try to understand different perspectives even if we may not agree with them.
Sometimes space is useful. It gives us time to think and helps others move comfortable around us. It also gives ideas time to develop. Forge your own path. Take onboard useful ideas from others but use your unique skills to craft unique creations with them. Lean into discomfort. Before pushing others to change their behaviour, examine our own. Get lost in this world of your own when you need to, but don’t let that get you into trouble by cutting yourself off from the world for too long. Listen. To yourself. To others. To the world around us.
When we do these things we give ourselves a great chance of being a good human. So let’s get out there and encourage others to be good humans.
Peace to you, dear reader, and I pray you have a splendid week.