Random Encounters: A Startling Discovery

Having “failed” on multiple attempts to create something meaningful to me AND useful to society, I began to doubt that I had my values set the right way. Maybe what society values is different from what society needs. Maybe what I thought was useful to society was different than what was truly useful to society. 

Like many human beings, I wanted my work, whatever that was at the moment, to also benefit others. This is a normal human trait that comes from the compassion that we all share at our core. It might go into hiding for a while, but it is there and it defines us as a species, whether we know this or not. Lately, however, it felt like everything I was doing, it was just not hitting the mark: either it was really not helpful, or it went unrecognized and underappreciated. For me, this was a sign that I, myself, was missing the mark. So I began questioning what would be really helpful to do and what would really be beneficial for the people I come in contact with. Give them more stuff? Teach them more skills? Contribute to society, in which way? 

It came seemingly from nowhere, but there it was: it’s not about what I can do for people, but how I do it: the attitude. Instead of searching for the next grand idea for the betterment of our society, to change my attitude towards those I was meant to serve. This applies especially to random encounters, and it is better summarized as two words: be there. Be nice, be there, be present with what is going on right there. With the clerks, with the taxi driver, with the delivery person, especially with the people I do not know personally. Online, offline, anywhere. 

This looks like a “too simple to matter” thing. But nothing could be further from the truth. The subconscious, everybody’s subconscious, remembers everything: from the most traumatic event, to the most insignificant occurrence. During the course of a day, we encounter all kinds of situations and interactions, pleasant and unpleasant. Most of the interactions are not the pleasant kind: while in some societies people have learned to spare each other’s nerves by being polite and sometimes even kind, most encounters between people are still rough, rushed, and downright rude at times. Living day after day like this normalizes the situation, but does not make it right. It just makes everybody feel that they are entitled to respond in the same manner, which perpetuates the situation. So it is reasonable to believe that consciously creating a safe environment in which the person in front of us has a chance to relax, is a very useful thing to do. 

The easiest to apply this is during random encounters: at the store, in the bus, on the street, on the internet. With people we do not know at all is the easiest of all: there is no prior connection, therefore no personal prejudice or bad blood. Nothing to stop us being present and kind. It is harder with people we know and don’t like, but this is a skill and it can be worked up. Sometimes all it takes to put the one in front of us at peace is saying “hello” and “thank you” with a smile; agreeing with them on harmless subjects like the weather, and not contradicting them on more charged subjects. What happens is, you give them a moment of calm, when they don’t have to go on the defensive, therefore they will enjoy the encounter. Even if this is only a fleeting moment, it will register in their subconscious. Having experienced this type of encounter as positive and pleasant, one day it may emerge in a new pattern of behavior for them, as it did for you. Now, that is a change I am looking forward to! And it is easy to do, and doesn’t cost anything else than being aware, present and willing. 

This isn’t practicing goodwill in order to get in the good graces of anybody, or scoring “good boy” points. This is actually how behavior forms in people: we see it, we imitate it, we repeat it, until it becomes second nature, or automatic. When the same kind of behavior becomes automatic to a high number of people, it becomes the norm for society; at that point, very few people will question if this behavior is beneficial to us or not. We can see the results of normalizing cold, impersonal behavior all around us, and it’s not nice. We also can change this, by applying awareness and mindfulness in our random encounters every day, for the sole purpose of seeding new, kinder, more compassionate patterns into society.

Going back to my statement that maybe what society values is different from what society needs, only now could I see how true this is. Society values money, connection, power. But society needs a kinder, calmer and more trustful environment in the first place. This environment is something that only we can create for ourselves. If we don’t understand this, no new technology or discovery will be able to help us, for the simple reason that it won’t reach but a few people. And this is a discussion that deserves a separate, more detailed, approach.