Thursday, October 3, 2013

Common Courtesy Revisited

When you think about reaching out to the world around you, what words come to mind? Missions? Service projects? Volunteering?

I have many friends who have gotten on planes to serve and do mission work all over the world, and I admire them for it. But my heart tends to lean toward the people I see every day, to the lonely, to the forgotten, to the people who don't think they matter. Those are the people I want to wrap in a big hug and say, "You know, you are not alone."

While that would probably get me some weird looks and possibly a harassment lawsuit, I want to express that idea that the ground between my own two feet is where service starts. Not in a far off land, but right here, right now.

Another thought that comes to me as I'm writing is that we can't serve those whom we don't love, but more than that, love grows through serving someone. If you will pardon a cleaning analogy, I never notice the pattern in the linoleum tile or countertop until I start wiping it down with a sponge. Suddenly I am aware of the individual colors that make up the swirl. I see the patterns emerge. What was once just a blob barely registering as I went about my day becomes a work of art.

Serving people is the same. As you begin to really look at each person, individually, make eye contact, smile even, you will begin to see past the clothes, hair styles, and mannerisms that may accentuate your differences. You will begin to see them as a fellow human being, doing the best they can. Just like we all are.

Today, let me challenge you to do five things. Not even five hard things. I want us to nurture an awareness of the world around us, to slow down long enough to engage right where our feet are standing. Ready?
  1. Smile at people. Not the lizard smile...the one when your eyebrows raise and your lips stretch out in a straight line and you're not really smiling but giving a shrug with your face. Do it once and you'll know what I mean. Instead, look at someone and really smile. You don't have to show teeth, but at least grin at someone.
  2. Look at people when you talk to them.  If you conduct your business staring at your phone, at the order board behind someone's shoulder, or at the display totaling up your purchases, you are not actually connecting with the person serving you. Take time to look at them and see them. It validates that they are more than just a transaction to you.
  3. Compliment someone. Now that you've decided to smile and look at someone, compliment them. It might be the only one they hear all day.
  4. Say hello to strangers. Unless you live in a giant metropolis, you probably pass many of the same people every day and don't realize it yet. We are all in a hurry to get someplace else, but it only slows you down by a few seconds to say hello or good morning to the people you pass.
  5. Hold or get the door for someone. Letting someone go ahead of you says that they matter.
This post may seem like an etiquette lesson, but sometimes, practicing good manners is serving. In this day and age, social media and communication technology has lead to a shortage of manners. We text in shorthand, we don't converse but post statuses instead, and email instead of phone. Not that all that needs to go, but we need to balance it by re-learning how to connect in face-to-face interactions with real humans, not screens.

Who's up to the challenge?

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