The Myth of Purposeful Lives
The books and movies make it so hard! You want to find meaning in your life? Then you must do the following:
- Recover from the drudgery of office life (and other peoples’ hardships) by recreating all of Julia Child’s French recipes, cover to cover
- Recover from the trappings of modern American life and relationships by traveling around the world, snacking and meditating.
- Recover from the stress of a divorce by walking in the woods and talking to strangers.
Hmmm, these strategies may only work if you are a white woman.
Purposeful, meaningful lives where you can make actual positive impact on others doesn’t have to be so far-fetched, or require Le Creuset, a passport, or callouses. It’s not always about making a complete 180. It’s not always the drastic change, or mid-life crisis.
Sometimes, it’s simply about being kind. Even just once a day.
Here are the small acts of purposeful living I have experienced and observed in my city-centric universe:
- Folks who move their bag from the bus/subway seat. Most people don’t want to have to ask others to be courteous and deeply appreciate the thoughtfulness.
- Folks who hold doors for one another. This elicits so much surprise for the recipients, because they no longer expect this.
- Folks who offer a “bless you” or “gesundheit” or “salud” when someone sneezes. People often feel badly about (possibly) spreading germs, these phrases seem to convey an “it’s all right” that makes them feel less self-conscious.
- Folks who pick up their dog poop (well, the dog’s). This is a blessing, especially in cities where children have no private places to play, public spaces like sidewalks, playgrounds, and parks are sacred space.
- Folks who hold on to their litter until they can find a proper place to throw it out. They may not live in this neighborhood, but someone does, and not littering is a sign of respect.
- Folks who aren’t selfish with their parking job. Finding parking, on streets or in lots can already be difficult enough. Recognizing that the lines aren’t ‘recommended’ shows you know everyone has as much right to be here as you.
- Folks who use their turn signals…at all, but definitely as a precursor to making their move. Everyone has to be somewhere right now. (I am personally happy every time someone uses their signal, even when they’re trying to cut me off. I find (small) comfort in their acknowledgement that I have to “let” them in my lane.)
- Folks who give the right of way to pedestrians. No one traveler – pedestrian, cyclist, motor vehicle driver – has more right to the road. I’ve seen pedestrians pat cyclists on the back or give thumbs up to drivers when they’re (pedestrian) given the right of way in a crosswalk. These gestures make us all feel like we’re looking out for one another.
This list could go on . The lesson I took is that most of us simply yearn for small gestures of respect and kindness in our everyday. It’s pretty sad that most people think it will never happen. Is that how little we expect of fellow human beings?
Well, I’m willing to defy expectation.