My commute home last night got me thinking about The Big 5 again: Respect, Reciprocity, Consideration, Compassion, and Openness, but last night, mostly Consideration.
I was struck first by how tired everyone looked. Well, sure, end of the work day, that makes sense; we’re all tired and eager to go home. What I saw next in so many faces was the sheer force of will it took to refuse to consider others. A lot of faces, a lot of commuters, each actively engaging in processes of mind intended to sooth themselves and justify decisions to hang on to their seat, their spot by the door, the empty seat next to them, or whatever ‘win’ they scored on that trip that evening on that crowded commute. I saw a well-dressed business man, younger than me – late thirties, perhaps – steadfastly refusing to make eye-contact, or even look toward, the pregnant woman standing in the aisle next to his seated self. She was obviously very uncomfortable, and not quite tall enough to easily reach the dangling handles. In fact, not one of the healthy fit adults in the train car offered her a seat. Nor did they offer one to the elderly woman a few steps further down the car. They didn’t offer a seat to the harried mother of many little ones trying to keep assorted toddlers and a tween in check on her journey. Some of the seated commuters are ‘regulars’. I see them each day. They occupy their seats with a certain firmness, as if to say “this is my train, my journey, I do this daily and I have earned this seat.” There was also an assortment of woefully inconsiderate teens, just out of school activities for the day, and while I don’t excuse their callousness, their age makes it less mysterious, and less offensive. Yes. I am offended by the invested disregard for others that so many of us fall into as adults. I’m not judging, as much as observing with a certain sadness, and empathy. I used to be that entitled, self-satisfied, resentful, callous adult grabbing a seat on the train with a certain smug determination, and a sense of possession, and boundary setting. My stomach churns bitterly and becomes a tight lump of something unpleasant settled inside myself when I acknowledge it honestly. It sure isn’t the best I have to offer as a human being. It definitely is not considerate.
What about last night? I stood for the commute. Why not? I’m not the strongest, youngest, fittest, or healthiest commuter along the route on most evenings, but I get by, and the courtesy shown when I can offer my seat to someone who needs it more than I do is an enormous investment in a very different feeling about life, about people, about the value in our shared experience. It matters. I reflected on simple courtesy, and my Big 5, all the way home. There will be other commutes, and new opportunities to reflect on The Big 5. Consideration is a tough one to define, and might be the most important one, when I view ‘Considerate’ as ‘consider it’… isn’t that what it comes down to? Considering things fully? Taking a moment to consider that the woman or man standing nearby may have needs? May be in pain? May be suffering a moment of great sorrow? May need to get off their feet for even a minute or two on a rainy night? May feel alone, burdened, and unsupported? How many of my own worst moments of behavior come down to simple lack of consideration? What about yours?
I’m also keenly aware of ‘bystander effect‘. Last night I wrestled with understanding where the line between ‘doing the right thing’ and ‘meddling’ really is. If I ask someone else to give up their seat for someone who clearly needs it, am I ‘meddling’? Am I diminishing the personal authority of the person I intervene for? Am I being inappropriately critical or judgmental of the individual of whom I make the request? Are the answers to these questions easy for you? (I find them a challenging puzzle.) Culture changes over time. It once seemed a little silly that the buses and trains have signs and announcements reminding people to give up their seats for the elderly or disabled. It now seems obvious and necessary to make such reminders; we are not a considerate culture.
Today I will explore ‘consideration’ all day long. I will pause to ‘consider’ my actions and choices as often as I can remember to do so, and really consider the indirect outcome of my actions, not just the planned or desired outcome. Kindness is a free service. Compassion presents no inconvenience – and can as easily be learned. What about you? Feel like helping me out with making the world a friendlier, easier place to enjoy life? Will you take a few moments, an opportunity or two, to be more than usually considerate? If you do, I’d love to hear how it goes!