A story: a man was driving at midnight in a freezing rainstorm when he got a flat tire. He recalled having seen a house a few moments before and got out of his car to seek help. The rain was even worse than it had looked from inside the car. Within seconds he was soaked through and freezing. As he walked, growing ever more miserable, he wondered what kind of reception he might get knocking on the door in the middle of the night. Most people would be frightened to hear the doorbell at that time, he thought. Being snug, warm, and dry, they would not grasp his predicament and might turn him away. The prospect of being forced back into the rain seemed unbearable. He pictured the long, cold walk back to his car. He would have to spend the night freezing in his car. He would have no dinner or breakfast. And those folks would be snuggling in their warm bed. The selfishness of people knows no bounds. By the time the driver arrived at the house and rapped on the door, he was furious. Then a bleary-eyed man in a bathrobe opened up, the driver took one look at him and punched him in the mouth, yelling, “Take that, you sonofabitch.”
When you stop laughing (if you ever started) ask yourself what was that all about.
It is so simple, it is scary.
First, “do not assume”—it makes an ass out of u and me!
Second, if you must assume, try to err on the side of assuming good intentions. Most of us really want to do the right thing, including helping strangers in need.
How does this fable apply in today’s world?
We have begun to assume automatically the worst of people we do not know. Not surprisingly, they tend to reciprocate in kind.
The echo chamber of social media once promised to be a digital bridge bringing more people together, but it has instead largely done the reverse. Anonymity frees people from accountability, particularly from people they do not know.
We all need to and should want to know more about strangers we encounter daily.
We will, of course, not love them all, (nor them us) but we surely will come to realize soon enough that they (men and women alike) also pull on their pants one leg at a time! And, we should invite them to become part of our world.
One way to do that would be to try regularly to connect with the people we see in daily life. Some combination of “hello, goodbye, have a nice day” do help but those words and phrases have largely become routine sounds without much real meaning.
It would be great if we could adopt a new word, for example a word for thanks in Japan (’ARIGATO’), to introduce a new expression into our language to greet complete strangers with friendliness and a sign of willingness to become acquainted. (By the way, Japan is still one country that still seems to pull together.)
Give it a try. I have. It works particularly well when the other person asks what that word means—“Thanks for being here.”