The power of compassion
Published: Thursday, October 11, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
Have a nice day.
Four simple words with a simple message, but have you ever stopped to think about it?
I’m sure you say these words dozens of times each day – I know I do because I work in retail – but do you mean them?
On Wednesday, my communication professor explained how he says these words mindlessly each day, a courteous and polite habit, but he never means them. He doesn’t care if the girl serving his coffee at Tim Hortons has a good day or not – in fact, not many of us do, I learned.
We only think about ourselves.
Maybe it’s because we’re a society that relies on instant gratification rather than patience. Maybe we’re too wired to our cell phones and distant conversations to notice who is right in front of us. Maybe we’re too concerned about our own issues and our own problems.
Stop and think for a minute: what if that girl, whose job it is to make sure your needs and wants are satisfied, came to work after her grandfather passed away or she had a huge fight with her boyfriend?
Maybe she has a sister with cancer, or maybe she got into a car accident on the 190. What if she comes from a broken home? Maybe she’s been raped. Or maybe she’s just stressed because she works two jobs to afford school so she someday doesn’t have to stand at a counter serving coffee.
Maybe it takes all of her strength not to break down and cry while she hands you your extra large double-double you were in such a rush to get. You won’t notice the pain in her eyes as you walk away to get to that job you’re so late for.
Do you really wish she would have a nice day?
I look at the kids on this campus around me and I have to wonder what demons they carry – what pain hides behind their smiles. But there’s no way to tell by just looking. Those things go unsaid.
Tuesday was National Day Without Stigma – a day designed to eliminate the stigma that surrounds mental health and to help create an understanding, compassionate community.
One in four Americans suffers from mental illness – be it simple stress, anxiety or something much more serious – but only one in four agrees people are generally caring and sympathetic to those suffering, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for college students, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Nearly 1 million people attempt suicide each year. But you don’t hear anyone talking about it.
The first step is to pay attention. How many conversations do you have while on autopilot, just like saying “have a nice day” when saying goodbye? How many times have you had a face-to-face conversation with a friend while simultaneously texting another? When’s the last time you looked someone in the eye?
I worry technology is seeping way too far into our psyches. We’re trained from a young age to use a computer, but we rarely teach morals or simple manners in school. Kids learn to interact via the airwaves – whether it’s through the Internet or the 4G speed of their iPhones – and we don’t know empathy. We don’t know that words can hurt and heal.
Sit down with a friend. Ask him or her about what’s going on. Ask how grandma is doing in the hospital; ask how that midterm went, or if her sister won her soccer game. Don’t touch your phone; don’t worry about where you need to be. If you hear a twinge of sadness, offer a hug or an open ear.
As Plato put it: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
Sometimes it’s just what someone needs.
We all suffer in some ways and some suffer more than others. Don’t cover up pain; don’t let it fester. Let it out. Experience human emotion with those around you. Mean what you say. Know a smile can hide a lot, and the girl who brings you coffee could be carrying more demons than you think.
And, please, sincerely wish your neighbor a wonderful day.