When I first started working in London way back in 1995, I worked with a young graduate from a very privileged background who treated the office assistant like a piece of shit. It went against everything I stood for, so one day I took her out for lunch and explained that being nice to this lady was very important to her. I explained that this is the person who sent her faxes (yeah way back) and cleaned her desk/emptied her bin, so she’d obviously make you a priority if she liked you and might just forget to do something if you were an ass. Hey why not right? No one wants to be treated like shit.
Thankfully this young lady listened to me. Of course, helping people understand that there are actual benefits to being kind is really not the point. Being kind is just good human practice, but having lived in Asia for 10 years, sometimes you’ve got to give people a what’s-in-it-for-them incentive to be kind too. Asia is definitely a massive personal contradiction for me, and where you sit in the social hierarchy is very VERY important round these parts. In Asia I don’t believe it’s a conscious decision to treat people as less than yourself, it’s just a cultural thing that people don’t question. As such, sometimes you’ve got to point it out, or at the very least, lead by example. It’s tough for me though, as I often grapple with it, but equally, I am lucky to be Caucasian.
Today I was reminded, once again, that being kind has rewards. I drove to the office and when I headed for the car park, the attendant told me “no, the car park is full” – fully intending me to turn around, which meant I’d have to navigate the CBD chaos to find somewhere else to park. That would’ve been a massive pain in my arse and I had a headache, so wasn’t too happy at the prospect. When he saw it was me, he said “oh it’s you, you’re my friend. It will be about five minutes before a park comes free, so wait over there and I’ll tell you when one comes up.” Everyone else was sent on their way.
This man is low on the social totem pole in Asia and most people just ignore him. I, on the other hand, adore people of all walks of life, and have enjoyed some of the most bizarre and fascinating conversations with him. He appreciates that I take the time to acknowledge his humanity and today he gave me a little bit of gratitude in return. It felt really nice.
I’ll talk to anyone – I don’t care. Completely of the mindset that everyone I meet has something to teach me, sometimes I’ll walk away from a conversation a bit perplexed by an opinion, or completely delighted, but either way, these moments expand my thoughts and that makes my life richer. People have all sorts of strange ideas and beliefs, so being open to anything enriches you and I believe it helps you to understand the weirdness of life a little more too.
So it was a reminder today that my approach is a good one, not just because someone did something nice for me , but because I feel my life is so much richer due to all of the fabulous and sometimes challenging people I meet.
Tomorrow, if you feel inclined, say hi to someone in your world that you’ve never really acknowledged and see where the conversation takes you? More than that, see how it makes you feel opening yourself up to someone else. The one thing I know that will happen is the ignored person in your life will be so happy that someone, finally, acknowledged their existence, I bet you’ll make their day. That’d be nice no?
But then perhaps you already make a practice of it?
Oh something else I saw yesterday that I thought was fabulous and made the same point – Tim Minchin – terrific!
Yours, without the bollocks