I don’t typically blog more than once a week, but today, something got my attention in a big way. Sitting in a meeting, I listened as my boss broke through the craziness of our ever-muddled minds and got through to me with such simplicity that it left my over-thinking head spinning and reeling all day.
Recently, my boss returned from a trip to Africa. When she returned, she told us all about her trip and the life lessons she picked up while she was there. I guess I didn’t really listen, and I guess that maybe that’s the problem. I smiled and marveled at the bracelet she gave me (the one she told me took a week to make by hand, and the one that made me foolishly ponder what someone who made one bracelet a week did with the rest of their time). Today, though, I listened as she regaled the story for the second time.
My bracelet from Africa that now means a little bit more to me.
I really listened, as she blew my mind. She spoke of the way that things moved slower, and the way that people truly connected with one another—without all the chaos and distraction. She talked about how people really listened when the other spoke (yikes, I’m listening now, I promise), how they all joined in to help one another out, and how they didn’t get as concerned with the little things (you know, those things that send us into a tizzy and are resolved within a matter of minutes or hours).
She talked about how she was bringing those things back with her, and trying to find the balance between Africa-time and America-time. Yes, we live in a world full of clutter, we move at a pace faster than light most days, and we’re constantly bombarded with a million options. But, as I listened to her speak and noted her calmer, more at-peace demeanor, I figured she just might be on to something.
All day long, it has haunted me, making me ask myself the question: how do we get back to a place where people are what matters? Having always been a big-hearted softie, this question has pierced even deeper. I’ve found myself asking: are people not what matter to me, and did I somehow stray from that heart I was given?
I think the answer is far too complex to solve. In the world where a software crash (that will be fixed in a matter of hours) ruins our day, where we text or “like” rather than call, where we often find excuses to get out of things, and where we are so busy that we lose focus, it’s hard to make people our focus.
We are a competitive culture. Don’t get me wrong. I’m about as American as they come, and I thrive on competition. I love the aspect of setting and attaining goals, climbing ladders, and moving forward to being a better person. I flourish in settings where I’m challenged and can prove my worth. I get it. It’s who we are, and it’s how we’re wired. For many of us, we also grew up in a fast-paced culture (stop me now if you don’t remember how frustrating it was to wait on the dial-up internet just so you could see if you made someone’s MySpace Top 8). I was raised in the era of cell phones, internet, 24-7 news cycles, and quick service.
Just a side note here, but it really did...
We’re not used to waiting, and unfortunately, we’re often not used to doing anything other than looking out for ourselves and a small circle of people. Think road rage with me for a second (and note that I’m plenty guilty here). We rarely consider what that other driver is going through. Maybe they’ve just suffered a devastating heartbreak, maybe they’re worried about losing their job or how they’re going to feed their families, maybe they’re exhausted from working three jobs, maybe they’re just not paying attention.
Everyone has something going on....if only we have the eyes to see it and the ears to hear it, maybe we can be the one who helps make a difference.
Whatever the case may be, we don’t stop to think that they’re people. Instead, we angrily “teach them a lesson” or gesture or honk our horns. We’re in too big of a hurry to realize that there’s a person behind that wheel. The same is often true anywhere we go. People aren’t people in our culture. They provide a service, they get in the way, they fulfill a need.
We use. We hurt. We ignore. And, I don’t think this is just an American trait—or even something that those in Africa have all figured out. I think it’s just a shift in focus. In our race to be the best, accumulate the most things, we have become too busy. We often throw out the phrase, “I don’t have time.”
All we have is time...how are you using yours?
That’s the problem. We do have time. Time is all any of us have. We have time, and we have people who need our time. Whether it’s simply picking up the phone and calling an old friend, legitimately meaning it and waiting to hear the answer the next time we ask someone how their day is, or making a concerted effort to have empathy toward another soul in any circumstance, we must get back to where our focus is less on how busy we are and more on who surrounds us.
People are what matter. That is what I learned from listening today. Perhaps, if I did a little less worrying, problem solving, scheming to be the best or smartest, and stressing out about how busy I am, I could listen more—connect more—and remember that people are, indeed, what matters.
Tonight, I'll listen to this on repeat and remind myself that things don't have to be "so automatic."