We are always hearing from the older, wiser, more burned-out folk: “Take advantage of your 20s — it’s your time to be selfish.”
They tell us this with baby food in their hair, as they run to the grocery store in sweatpants — without having enough time to take a shit.
We can’t fathom this Adulthood, because to Us, the world is still Ours. We still dictate when we get home, and when we leave. The most important person we need to keep alive is ourselves — and we can sustain on mac & cheese for days.
We are selfish.
And sometimes, that’s okay. Sometimes, it’s important to make time for yourself in this wake up-gym-work-sleep type life. It’s even important to spend time understanding You, and doing things to make You happy.
But, that doesn’t mean the world revolves around Us. It doesn’t mean that we expect others to serve us, without as much as a smile. Or push people to get into the subway car.
It means thinking twice before ordering your second lunch on Seamless in the pouring rain.
Or treating other people like Human Beings.
Running Errands on 5th Avenue, April 2014
Spring in New York is just as unpredictable as the city itself — some days, it’s alive with people and life and refreshing smells. While others, it’s weather is as intense as it’s vibe.
I arrived home from my 4-month backpacking trip during this erratic season. I was so used to the constant glow of the South Pacific that I forgot how jarring thunderstorms could be. Or how jarring New Yorkers could be.
When I first got back New York, I was struck at it’s dirtiness. I couldn’t stop looking down at the sidewalk and thinking about how many dirty shoes, and dog’s poop, and people’s butts had touched that cement.
And no one seemed to notice how black the sidewalks seemed.
I spent that first day back strolling around my old neighborhood, feeling almost like a fresh wound that was exposed to the world. I was so affected by everything, and so hyper-aware of myself. I kept feeling surprised at everyone’s “busy-ness.”
All of a sudden, the rains came.
I was almost home when the sky opened up, and people on the sidewalk took cover anywhere they could. I happened to stumble into a grocery store, and slowly realized that it was rush hour. The dreadful 6pm. At the time, I didn’t really know the feeling that time of day brought with it, but could sense it was somewhere in between despair and relief.
I picked up a banana (with all the money I had left in my bank account), and got on line to pay. There were at least 15 people ahead of me, and everyone was soaked with rain. The heavy backpacks and duffel bags added more weight to the dismal aura.
And every single person was engulfed in their own world — consumed by technology.
After waiting for about ten minutes, I was almost next in line. Since I wasn’t on my phone, I noticed a new cashier begin to open up another register, and quickly moved over. But, without any qualms for order, people began to run to the empty cash register — pushing to get to the front.
It made no difference if shoppers had just joined the wait, because every man or woman was in it for themselves. I saw this chaos begin to ensue, and I let the people who were rightfully in front of me go ahead. But, their response was chilling — they stared at me with a hollow in their eyes I had never seen before.
No smile, no thank you. Just an entitled, hollow stare.
I was most appalled at the privileged air that each person emitted on that line. They elbowed to get to the front as if it was their right to be served first. It didn’t matter that we were all hungry and wet and had better things to do than wait for the mother with $500 worth of groceries to check out.
But you know, it wasn’t just the hollowness in their eyes that scared me. It was their inability to feel empathy. It was their entitlement to be the First. It was their complete disregard for the other Human Beings around them.
Because to them, they were the only Human in the world.
Listen, it’s not just New York Values that created this mess.
Everyone gets in a funk where their problems are the most important, and their time is the most precious. I get it. Once I started work, I definitely had the Tuesday blues at Whole Foods, and I didn’t take out my headphones once.
But, that can’t be the norm. All too often I see this selfishness that only makes things worse. Whether it’s in the coffee shop passive-aggressively asking for the almond milk or with Uber drivers that have to call 5 times before you say, “I’m heading to the elevator right now…” — we could think more about the person on the receiving end.
The World Doesn’t Revolve Around You.
We could all take a step back to think about our demeanor, and how our actions affect others. Yeah, so you had another shitty day at work? I’m guessing that 95% of people on your subway car did as well.
Maybe a smile will change that.
We could try to practice a little empathy. All it takes is removing your blinders, and stepping into someone else’s shoes. I challenge you to try that once per day.
It works. And, it might make your World a little bit brighter.
‘Till next time.
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