I started writing this post some time ago and it was almost finished when MH17 was gunned down over the Ukraine. For most of us, it is impossible to fully comprehend events like this, let alone explain them to our children. We’ve nearly all flown in passenger planes, many of us on that exact route. Collectively we all share a shake of the head, murmurs of “what’s the world coming to” and may even shed tears with our family, friends and colleagues – despite the fact the victims may not be personally known to us.
These feelings of despair, though, certainly make me lift my “Eyes Up” and take a good look around at what I have, particularly in terms of human relationships and how I chose to interact with other people day to day. So I ask myself, am I practising generosity of spirit every day? Am I treating people the way I would like to be treated? Am I being “nice”? I do know that I have sometimes felt strongly enough about someone else at work, or in my family, that I approach all dealings with that person with the expectation that they will fail me in some way, or that they are actively trying to undermine me. As a result I am rude, abrupt, negative and using defensive, barbed language before a conversation even begins. This open hostility puts everyone on edge, breeds tension in the air, and restricts people’s responses – particularly if they are subordinate in the exchange. My kids will clam up if they see me cranky about the fridge left open or dirty clothes on the floor – and they won’t open up about their day, tell me any good news or share any issues they have. At work the fear culture results if team members are afraid to point out issues that invoke a negative response and too many useful comments are left unsaid.
I don’t think being “nice” is purely about wanting people to like me. I believe it’s ultimately an authentic human way to conduct relationships – even with people who we know are not our closest friends or family. And so to my experience at Costco – which I visited for the first time a couple of months ago. Now I was wary of the warehouse shopping experience – expecting something similar to the carnage seen at the Boxing Day sales. But I was wrong. Without exception the staff and fellow customers were polite and patient. It took an hour to get there, there were queues to sign up, you had to fetch your own trolley from the car park, and find your own way around – but everyone EXPECTED this – and they were happy about the experience, as their expectation was this was the trade off for the marvellous bargains awaiting. Once inside the store, there was some sort of strange camaraderie pervading my fellow shoppers – people opening shared overwhelmingly positive opinions on this and that, sought advice from strangers on shoes and offered guidance to the best fresh food or bargains. Even the checkout guy stopped for a friendly chat – whilst we packed our haul into boxes ourselves.
If a warehouse shopping experience can provide this type of positive human interaction, surely we can all make a little effort every day to be positive in our attitude to all our relationships at home and work. There will always be difficult moments where anger, conflict and frustration are present. But this week in particular, try to be human and genuine a few times each day. Ask people how they are, how their day is going, see what goes unsaid, and be accommodating, polite and courteous. Chat to a stranger in the lift at work, to the cleaners after hours or the mail man. Remind yourself that not everything in the world is bad and practise generosity of spirit – and we might all feel a little better about humanity.