Archives for posts with tag: commuters

There’s this guy…

…Oh, hey, some ground rules, first. I’m pretty human and I have my share of petty moments; it matters to me to be compassionate, to be aware that we are each having our own experience, and to do my best to be non-judgmental. I see human behavior. Being human, myself, I have some. I don’t always understand it, and liking words I often want to describe it. Today, too. So, this one is more a character study than a judgement, and I’ll do my best to attend to my phrasing. 🙂

Each of us is having our own experience.

Each of us is having our own experience.

There’s this guy I see regularly on my commute to work, in the morning. I usually see him near the coffee stand. Days when I see him, I’m struck by how much I want to ‘type-cast’ him. He has a very ‘East Coast vibe’. He also strikes me as the essence of The Perfectly Miserable Man. I feel a bit sad for him, generally, because on any given day he seems stressed to the breaking point, and entirely and completely miserable. He also conveys some other things through his discontent tone. He seems angry, disagreeable, and entitled. I wonder each time I see him what it is about life that sucks so much for him that he finds the will to be that miserable.

I’m not being mean. A day or two ago, I walked up to the coffee stand, and gave the gentleman who runs it my order, a latte. Between my words, and the barista’s reply, The Perfectly Miserable Man rushed up, inserted himself physically between me, and the counter, and barked at the barista “Do you have half and half?”. It was obvious the barista was as startled as I was, and didn’t quite hear what this other potential customer had said. He replied, courteously enough, “I’m sorry?”  The Perfectly Miserable Man doesn’t have time for polite trivialities, and went on a tirade about the intelligence of the barista, his honesty, his work skills, then turned attention to the sorry state of the world, and his own misery that he could be treated so badly by one and all. It was damned eloquent. Part of me also found it… hilarious. It was illuminating. I could see The Perfectly Miserable Man building his exquisite misery in front of me, a word at a time. Escalating emotionally in the absence of any stimulus outside his own creation – highly efficient. Sad, too, because he could choose differently, and have a very different experience.

Once the barista understood that The Perfectly Miserable Man was asking for free half and half for coffee he hadn’t purchased there – actually, he hadn’t purchased anything on that day – the barista politely, and rather graciously, apologized that he didn’t have the stock on hand to give away half and half.  The Perfectly Miserable Man wasn’t satisfied with that and flung more than offered a dollar for some half and half. The barista asked how much he wanted, still being polite, and when The Perfectly Miserable Man indicated about a tablespoon, the barista handed over the carafe of half and half.

The story doesn’t really end there. I might not have been sitting around mulling this over if it had. The Perfectly Miserable Man accepted the half and half, managing to be rude, dismissive, and confrontational about it. Then he poured about 6 ounces of half and half into an empty cup, and put it into his lunch box, for later. He crossly muttered the entire time about the service, the cream, the day, having to pay for cream as a customer, the weather, the timing of the bus, and quite a few other things it never occurred to me qualified as complaints. He doesn’t mutter quietly, either. His words are obviously intended to be heard – and any overt recognition, eye contact, change of expression, is likely to result in a more directed bit of misery. He is so completely miserable.

I don’t actually get it, and I’ve started to look for him on the way to work. Some qualities and characteristics can be difficult to study, to understand, because subtleties require some prerequisite knowledge. I’ve certainly been miserable. I’ve grown to understand how much choice is involved in that.  Growing further, and learning to make different choices and not live an experience steeped in misery is worth doing. The Perfectly Miserable Man gives me some interesting life curriculum – he works really hard at misery, and is clearly very successful at it. I don’t need to know why to appreciate the rare opportunity to see it, study it. Seriously? This guy’s misery is on a level of real craftsmanship! Without fail, every time I see him on the way to work, he is miserable, and acting on it with his will, and demonstrating it for his community… I wonder each morning that I don’t see him, if perhaps I can’t recognize him if he isn’t miserable, and I overlook him when he’s having a good day? lol.

Not judging; it sucks to see him suffer, and I want to share that it doesn’t have to be that way.  I also recognize that he’s his own being, on his own path. He gets to make his own choices. I hope he gets some good days. I appreciate that his misery is a powerful demonstration I can study from afar.

I’ve been miserable. I don’t like the feelings that are part of misery. When I am not miserable, I can see quite clearly how much will and choice go into maintaining misery. When I feel miserable, I find it very hard to make choices that free me, even when I can clearly see it is a matter of choice. Misery is some nasty shit. I definitely want to learn the skills, and build my will, to improve my ability to be resilient in the face of moments of misery. It doesn’t look like The Perfectly Miserable Man enjoys life.

My commute home last night got me thinking about The Big 5 again: Respect, Reciprocity, Consideration, Compassion, and Openness, but last night, mostly Consideration.

Every open door is another opportunity to choose well.

Every open door is another opportunity to choose well.

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!