The other day, two things happened in rapid succession that got me to thinking about how we interact with each other in our everyday world. Going downstairs in an elevator in my apartment building one morning, two people got on at different floors as the elevator went down to the lobby and both of them, as soon as they were in the elevator, locked their attention onto their phones. No “good morning” or “how are you”…just immediately heads down writing texts. Then, when I was out on the street, I noticed that most people were so engrossed in their phones that some people were nearly bumping into others. That same morning, while walking across the park, I also noticed the people who were looking at their phones rather than the trees, dogs, or other people.
All this got me to thinking about how we have been programmed in recent years not to take time to notice or interact with one another in ways that were a matter of course in the years I was growing into adulthood. Watching people almost bump into each other while walking along, and being present to absolute silence in the elevator (which doesn’t happen all the time, for sure), touched into a sense of a different level of disconnection from one another than I am used to observing and/or experiencing. This sense of disconnection seems to me to also show up in Facebook posts, and I’m sure also in other places, where people’s comments about public figures or one another are stunningly disrespectful.
As I have continued to notice people locking in on their phones in situations where, in prior years, there might have been a bit of polite conversation, I got to wondering what would happen if I decided to make a concerted effort not only to be cordial to people along the way, but also to emphasize—in my thoughts as well as my actions—an active attitude of respect. One of the results of this practice is that I just about always say hello to people on the elevator, unless they are already engrossed in their phones. These are brief encounters, but I feel better when I’ve acknowledged someone who’s sharing the elevator ride with me. It’s not that I press for conversation. Instead, it’s just an acknowledgment that there are more than just myself sharing the same space.
For this week’s practice, I invite you to spend the week experiencing and expressing even more respect for yourself and others than you may currently do. While I’m not a fan of inauthentic cordiality, I do value authentic respect, acknowledgment, and engagement. So, this isn’t an invitation to be “nice”. Instead, it’s an opportunity to feel into the essence of respect, both as a way of speaking and also as an energy, a stance, an authentic way of moving through the world.
As you explore this practice, be sure to notice what you may bump up against, in terms of biases you may not normally acknowledge in yourself, discomfort connecting with others, feelings of warmth and/or enrichment, or whatever else may arise or emerge along the way. Most of us have an array of mixed feelings and this practice, as do all of them, is yet one more opportunity to become more aware of how you move through the world, how you relate to yourself and to others.
As with all these practices, be sure to bring along curiosity as your constant companion and to pat gently on the head any judgments that may arise. Allow them to move on through without your having to do anything about them other than to possibly note that there may be judgments you hadn’t realized you have. Above all else, be sure to treat yourself with deep respect along the way.