Do For One

Sometimes I cruise around on my Tikit. Yesterday I didn’t fare too well.

San Thomas El Camino Intersection

While making a left turn, my tiny 16″ wheel sank into the ground at 15 mph. The pothole blended in nicely with years of oil stains from years of cars waiting to turn left. I couldn’t keep the bike under control with one hand signaling left. Next thing I knew, I was on the ground.

I banged up my knee and had some scrapes. Nothing too bad. But what surprised me was that the driver of the car next to me immediately got out and helped me off the ground. He insisted on giving me a bottled water. He made sure I was okay before taking off. Another woman who saw me limping away stopped her car to give me bandages. I was stoked to see these strangers help me out. But as an introverted guy, inside my car driving by, would I do the same?

Cars, phones, earbuds, the iPad I’m typing on: All of these things can be world-canceling devices. That isn’t always bad, of course. But it’s easier to miss the opportunity for better use of our time. Jonathan Safran Foer, in his NYT article How Not to Be Alone, shared his experience using a phone to avoid a difficult moment with another person:

The phone didn’t make me avoid the human connection, but it did make ignoring her easier in that moment, and more likely, by comfortably encouraging me to forget my choice to do so. My daily use of technological communication has been shaping me into someone more likely to forget others. The flow of water carves rock, a little bit at a time. And our personhood is carved, too, by the flow of our habits.

…everyone is always in need of something that another person can give, be it undivided attention, a kind word or deep empathy. There is no better use of a life than to be attentive to such needs. There are as many ways to do this as there are kinds of loneliness, but all of them require attentiveness, all of them require the hard work of emotional computation and corporeal compassion.

While we must balance the time we spend on others with time we spend on ourselves, the best parts of my life are those spent helping others. I find myself leveraging modern tools to ignore others, almost by habit, missing the best use of my life.

The nice strangers who took time out of their day to help me, garnering ire from the traffic behind them, are inspirations to a life-long introvert like me who would struggle to decide to open my car door.

We’re carved by our habits. Our big decisions are made by all of the little choices we make. Nobody will ever see most of these choices, but that’s okay. Deciding to engage with a messy world in small things will carve out an attitude of compassion that can make a big difference over time.

You can’t help everyone, but why not do for one what you wish you could do for all?