I was running to my next appointment, as usual. Unfortunately. I knew what I was doing, though. I wasn’t late, I was going to be just on time. That’s how I plan my trips; I only have to run to have them work out. The plan was perfect.
There was only one major determining factor I had overlooked: the people I’m surrounded with, the masses, you and him and her that make up our society—in a nutshell, the fact that I’m not alone, that I don’t live in my own sphere where I hold the reins.
My plan was utterly individualistic.
I did not realize that in programming my schedule to the nearest second, I was single-mindedly pursuing my own goals, without leaving any room for mere coincidence to open the way to chance encounters, spontaneity and unplanned interactions. I had never realized any of this until I met him. This old African man, standing in the middle of one of those long corridors typical of the Paris Métro. He looked very confused and I stopped to help him find his way. I showed him which way to go but he insisted that I accompany him. I walked for a few minutes with him but he had some difficulty walking and moved very slowly. All that time, my mind was focused on my appointment, hoping that I would not be late. When we reached the bottom of the stairs leading to the train he and I were going to catch, I hurriedly reassured him that he was on the right platform, apologized for my haste and left. I felt terribly thoughtless.
And then it hit me. My routine of traveling in the city by running from point A to point B was working out as long as myself and my needs—reaching my destination on time—were at the center. But this self-centered habit was keeping me from connecting to the environment and the people around me.
I believe cooperation and reciprocity to be intrinsic needs of human beings, who cannot live in isolation. They are fundamental principles of existence, natural expressions of our reality as individual members of a single human society where each of us has a unique role to play that allows us to contribute to the well-being of the whole and derive our share from the latter in turn. I realized then that if this is to be the premise that shapes my relationships with others, I have to change my habits, especially those that prevent me from translating these essential principles into my daily life.
Fully fulfilling my role as a member of the community means making myself available to give and receive.
Can you imagine how things would be if all of us allocated 10 minutes in our daily schedule for the unexpected? Or does it even make sense to quantify the unknown? Should we rather, as a friend suggested, adopt a mindset that would translate into a greater flexibility and sense of prioritization on a daily basis? How many services could be rendered if we did not restrain ourselves to a tight schedule, always running out of time? Could this new habit make our communities more “humanly sustainable”?
Photo credit: Jonathan Fiamor