Friday, August 17, 2007

Tantalizing Glimpses

''In New York City, they say you walk by the person you're gonna marry on the street three times before you ever meet them. The person next to you on the subway could be your soul mate. Anywhere you look, a stranger might leave you sudden inspiration. Every window is a view into another life. An untold story. A friend you've never met. A lover. A mentor. A rival. Some are on top of the world and plan on staying there. Some are on rock bottom, desperate for a second chance. On any street, any corner, you might find someone trying to clean up their act, riding lady luck for as long as she lasts. And some are gonna go through life with reckless abandon, hoping it doesn't catch up with them. All these people living lives on top of each other. And of them — anyone at any time — could be the one that changes your life...forever.''
Six Degrees

I recently read a very enlightening treatise that broke down human cognitions into three categories with corresponding percentages for each. These three categories are;

1. Thoughts about ourselves including thinking about things we have to do, guilt about the past, anxiety about the future, regrets, obsessions, daily activities, etc.- 65%
2. Thinking about our significant relationships. These are our thoughts about our husbands, wives, moms, dads, close friends, and significant others. 25%
3. Thoughts that contain an element of empathy for others. These are thoughts that put us in other people's shoes and consider the world from the viewpoint of others. 10%

How do we get so stuck in our own heads? Perhaps it is the inertia of the personality. As children we gradually learn that the world is bigger than our own selfish needs, and an important developmental milestone is reached when kids grasp the concept of sharing. What is that makes us regress back to such selfishness as adults? Guilt certainly plays a role, as regrets and feelings of shame regarding the things we’ve done make up a large chunk of the tape that continually runs in our heads. The rest of this tape is often devoted to thinking about the future. Our wishes, desires, fantasies, and worries for what might happen tomorrow often render the present moment obsolete. Meanwhile wonderful opportunities to find joy in the present continue to pass us by.

The psychologist Alfred Adler felt that ultimately all problems are social problems, and that our social interest in others was a strong predictor of our mental heath. Isn't this fascinating!!! We walk past each other like zombies stuck almost entirely in our own heads when the keys to our potential happiness constantly walk right past us. They too muttering silently to themselves as they miss out on the wonderful things we have to offer them. We anxiously await news from our heroes, forgetting that we too may be extraordinary to others.

With this in mind I decided to get out of my own head for a while and meet some new people. For years I've lived in one of the largest cities in the country and yet every day I pass thousands of people who I never quite get a chance to know.

How many times do we walk by someone we were supposed to meet? My guess is all the time. Somehow in the hustle and bustle of our lives we never quite find the time or courage to take a risk and start a conversation with the mysterious and intriguing strangers that pass us by. For whatever reason fear kicks in and we don't act on our impulses to introduce ourselves to new people. I've always loved the quote in the movie Six Degrees of Separation that "each person is a doorway to a new world." I firmly believe it. With this in mind, I vowed to take action, and over the last couple of weeks I have introduced myself to at least 5 intriguing strangers every day. My life has been deeply enriched,

I met......

A pissed off poet. An angry but interesting looking guy at a concert who was watching the crowd and muttering to himself. Instead of spending all day wondering what he was saying to himself, I approached him, and boy did I get an earful!!!! He's the kind of guy who is extremely mad at the word, yet brilliantly creative and down deep a very hopeful person. Through talking for a half hour I received an invitation to a poetry slam, which, if you've never attended one should be high in your list of things to do. I spent a fantastic evening drinking beer and listening to people's poetry, and met soem wonderfully creative and interesting people in the process.

A Beautiful nurse!!! Ever have a very attractive person look your way? When this happens to me I usually look behind me to see who the person is looking at, but in this case she wanted to talk. She told me all about her interest in alternative medicine and how she was writing a book of her own on her experiences working as a hospice nurse whose mission was to gently help people die as comfortably as possible.

An angry pizza guy, who nearly ran me over on the street. When I approached his car, he reached for his pepper spray, but eventually I was able to convince him I just wanted to talk. Talking to him for a half hour I learned about dozens of alternate routes to take in Chicago to beat the traffic during rush hour. He was a Zen master with shortcuts and it was definitely worth my time to make his acquaintance.
I met a number of other people in addition to these three, and all of them added something to my life, and I can only hope I did the same for them. This experiment certainly taught me that everyone has something to offer, and there is a lesson in every human interaction from the toxic to the sublime. I hope through doing this I have increased the “empathy” piece of my pie just a little bit, as I certainly got a number of glimpses into how other people see the world. This is the difference between really listening as opposed to simply waiting for your turn to talk. For most of my life I’ve been in the second category, but it has been deeply enriching to slowly work on becoming a person who really listens. The rewards thus far have been tremendous, and it has been a powerful lesson that sometimes the most powerful gift you can give someone is simply to shut up and listen to them.