You Are Somebody (Not Just A Number)

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I regularly get e-mails with statements like “I know I’m nobody and you probably won’t even read this, but …” or “I’m probably just a name on some list, but I wanted you to know …” and countless other related introductions.

You are more than just a number to me. More than just a name on a list.

That’s why this type of thing always surprises me.

Like when I mailed a postcard to 132 of you from Goa, India … many of you responded with something along the lines of “WTF! Thank you! But WTF?!” :)

It’s like showing appreciation has become the exception not the rule. If you’re the type of person who shows appreciation for others that’s a good thing. It’s easy to show appreciation and by showing appreciation it makes you the exception. It makes you stand out. You’ll be remembered. Being the exception can be a great thing.

But what I want to know is …

Why is it the exception to show appreciation?

What has happened to us? Are we too busy road raging and watching Dexter to relate to people on a human level nowadays?

Maybe it has something to do with what we discussed regarding good deeds? Maybe since so many people think “good deeds don’t count if you talk about them” people have become conditioned to not bother performing any good deeds that involve human interaction?

Originally this article was really long, dissecting this whole “I’m just a number” thing. I scrapped all of that because I learned a lot from you in the comments on the good deeds article. So I want to know what you think without tainting your ideas with my own thoughts.

Comment below or contact me here (feel free to exceed the 5 sentence e-mail rule on this one) and let me know why you think being a normal human being and showing appreciation for others has become the exception. Why do so many people feel like nameless faces, numbers, cogs in a machine? How can we fix this? Help me help us …

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{ 74 comments }

matt gordon

i think normal has been difficult to experience due to the effect of social media and the internet. people say and do things on the net they never would in person. it feels so impersonal so they behave that way. also, people are lazy.

Why do so many people feel like nameless faces, numbers, cogs in a machine?
The reason we feel nameless is due to people forgetting that others have feelings too. they get so wrapped up in their own world that people go into self protective mode. this is usually a reaction to some external stimuli and the other people on the receiving end respond in kind. creates an infinite spiral unless a kind soul breaks it.

We can fix it by waiting before we speak or act. another way is to practice random acts of civility so that small habits become behaviors which become a lifestyle

Karol

Thank you Matt. I agree, if we took a little extra time out to think before speaking/acting we’d be in a better place. I’m guilty of it as much as anyone else.

I like your random acts of civility idea. :)

Miss P.

I just had this conversation with a friend yesterday. We were wondering why so many people are rude to waitresses and cashiers in supermarkets and how easy it is to say hello and wish them a nice day and how much happier it makes the interaction for both parties concerned.

I also think that we are so concerned with individualism that it is hard to acknowledge our inspirations, either in our own blog posts or in comments in the blogs we read. I think we feel as if we show weakness and a drearth of creativity if we gush about how great someone is.

On the other hand many bloggers and tweeple celebrate reaching a certain number of followers. Unemployment statistics are given in numbers, I get a number as a student, for social security, for waiting in line at the post office etc. etc. How am I not supposed to feel like I am just somebody, a number, a cog? I think that Starbucks has been successful in part because they broke with the numbering scheme and asked you your name with the coffee. My Sweetheart often has contact with mac-developers, because he records screencasts and does a lot of beta-testing and he is always so happy about personal contact, being called by his name and maybe having previous Emails referenced. And when he gives software recommendations he always prefers the software with the lovely support. So yeah, appreciation and personalisation are great for success too, not just for living a happier life.

Sorry to clutter your comments like this, it’s a subject I’m passionate about.
By the way, after reading your blog for a few weeks I am really starting to enjoy it and to appreciate your input.

Karol

No clutter at all Miss P. Thank you for sharing! It’s true that we’re bombarded with lots of numbers/statistics and it can make us feel like numbers ourselves. We’ve gotta do whatever it takes to not let that happen.

Brooke

Your 1st paragraph is increasingly true each holiday season, I’m afraid. I’m remembering a Target visit last year the week before Christmas, and the two customers in front of me just verbally assaulted the clerks, no fault of their own, about things such as “you shouldn’t have run out of Toy X”. No “Hi, how are you”–just yelling and screaming. We are all people, after all… When I got to the clerk and smiled, exchanging pleasantries, I remember how shocked she was… and I wondered if she’d seen a customer smile all day.

If only we (as a population) could realize that restaurant servers and store clerks are not our slaves…

Kacper

About the restaurants serves and store clerks — I’d say the problem is with the phrase ‘the customer is always right’. I bet you don’t know how we say this in Polish! Literal translation would be: ‘our customer is our master’.
If customer is always right and he *is* a master then… come on, it’s so easy to disrespect him. If he’s here to serve, why wouldn’t I show him how small he really is comparing to myself?

So assault. Verbally.

Kacper

I’ve lost ‘we’ in the last sentence. But I think you get it. :)

Sage

Ohh, this i too funny. I totally sent Chris Guillebeau an email starting out with something along those lines. When he sent one back I assumed it was an automated reply. Nope, seems like there are way more awesome, ready to connect (with ordinary, mere mortals like I ;) bloggers out there.

Glad to see you’re one of them.

Cheers,
Sage

Karol

:) Thanks Sage. Chris rules!

Miika

Karol,

From the top of my mind I have a feeling that everything in our lives has become subject to trade. People expect everything to come at a price, from random acts of kindness by strangers, to having a loved one help you out. Getting help puts you automatically in debt of gratitude, and no one wants more debt they already have.

I believe it’s due to the monetary system we live in, and how easy it is to thrive in it by stomping others. The system’s built in a way that some will always be left behind because they can’t pay their debt, and that makes everyone a potential enemy. As long as we artificially create scarcity in basic human needs (food, housing, clothing), we can not fully trust each other.

This is not a matter of politics, this is about well-being of the humankind. The exploitation of the fundamental flaws within the system takes us more and more away from unity, and this separation manifests as the behavior you described.

I wish for a world where no man would an enemy to another, and being a normal human being would be… well, normal.

Karol

Thank you Miika. Your comment is getting me thinking. It’s an interesting observation how we live in a society of debt and even non-monetary debts are avoided like the plague. How do we fix that? Is it possible to fix that?

Miika

There’s no such thing as impossible, right? :)

If you’re not familiar with the work of Jacque Fresco, you should definitely visit The Venus Project. I think his design of the future society is our best chance of saving the planet and rediscovering humanity.

Karol

Thanks for the link Miika! So far The Venus Project looks pretty fascinating.

Kristen

I think part of the problem people feel like a number is the culture of busyness we live in. We go from one thing to the next without giving ourselves time to breathe and process. Plus, our busyness makes us forget to appreciate the simple things around us that help us get through the day.

One thing I am working on is showing appreciation to others in simple ways. I baked cookies for a volunteer team that helps me at work. I try to tell my mom thanks every time she helps me with something or invites me over for dinner. The simple appreciation helps others feel like they matter.

Thanks for the thought provoking post!

It’s early and I don’t feel like I am making the most sense!

Karol

Thanks for baking cookies for your team Kristen! :) It’s pretty amazing how seemingly little things can make such a massive difference. Nothing is trivial.

Henri

I’ve sometimes thought about doing this, just sending out a nice letter to my people, but how do you get their addresses without being creepy? That’s where I hit a wall ;)

Karol

Paypal. :) Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that using e-junkie/paypal doesn’t collect mailing addresses. So I wasn’t able to do anything cool the 2nd time I launched How To Live Anywhere.

Torrie

In many way we are taught that we ARE just a number. Corporate America for example. You phone a business and can’t even get a real person on the line. Sure, we have 500 friends on facebook, but really don’t know any of them. We build a “false” sense of having personal connections.

My husband and I have been focusing diligently on building relationships. We like to have dinner parties, but whenever we invite someone they are booked for the next 3 months. The level of busyness in people’s lives is ridiculous. And I fear people are spending time doing stuff that doesn’t really matter.

Showing appreciation is very rare. People are just too busy, value other things over relationships, and believe that they must look out for themselves in order to be successful in this culture.

Karol

Thanks Torrie. I wrote a lot about the “500 friends” thing in Luxury of Less. It’s much more important to have fewer relationships that matter. And the ones that matter won’t be booked 3 months in advance to spend time with you. :)

Brooke

Booked for 3 months. I moved away from Silicon Valley to get out of that environment, but unfortunately, it seems to have crept up the coast, too. I have maybe one or two friends with whom I can be spontaneous… and it drives me nuts.

Building relationships is what makes us human. My husband and I spend a lot of time and effort trying to build relationships, too, but unfortunately you clearly know how that works out. Nowadays, people seem to be too wrapped up in themselves (I have one friend who is constantly telling me that she just doesn’t feel like company, but that she misses me… ?) and we’re losing the sense of being *human*.

(I just looked at your blog to see if there’s any chance you were here in Seattle, and couldn’t tell… *I* wouldn’t bail on your dinner party! ;)

Matt

The changes are coming on fast and furious, and the old rules for doing things (which weren’t really that old since they mostly arose post-WWII) are no longer working…and tons of people are figuring this out. For all the signs of collapse and disaster all around, the fact that these dialogues about good deeds and acts of kindness and appreciation are happening is a great sign…

Yes, people are busy. Yes, people are afraid. But once your 100 people are enjoying Ridiculously Extraordinary Freedom by passing that gift on to 100 more, the wave of gratitude and appreciation is growing.

That’s awesome that you mailed postcards to readers from Goa.

Karol

Thanks Matt. I don’t think about collapse and disaster, but I do think these dialogues are good. I get a lot out of them and I hope others do as well.

Jonathan

I never said thank you for the post card. I was pleasantly surprised to receive it. So, thanks :)

At a minimum, I try to remember to say thank you when someone does something nice for me … even if it is their job. When I am at a restaurant and the waiter or other staff refills my water glass, I try to make eye contact and say thank you. I think it is nice to acknowledge their presence and deed.

Karol

:) You’re welcome Jonathan. Eye contact + thank you = awesome.

Jeff

I’m keeping with the five sentences rule.

I found this post motivating and uplifting.

I also think it’s cool you trimmed the original text, based on learning from readers.

This sentence doesn’t begin with “I” and that’s important.

This is sentence number five – done.

Karol

Thank you Jeff! I’m glad this was motivating and uplifting. I’m feeling the same reading comments like yours. :)

Kacper

Hi there!

I believe it’s all about how we, humans, react on the interaction with strangers. Many don’t like it. Many hate it. We prefer to put our headphones or earphones on and get cut off from the world. We avoid looking others in their eyes or even faces on streets and means of public communication because we’re scared we would have to talk to them. We don’t like it.
Also being helpful means you care. You have feelings. We hate to show that. When we go out we put our masks on. We try to look like we were better than others, we had so freaking serious problems and we live so fucking great and (again) serious lives, we won’t stoop to others levell.
We are better. We don’t have feelings. We live serious lives. So fuck off.

I believe these are the two most important factors.

Cheers,
Kacper.

Karol

Good points Kacper. Regarding headphones/eye contact: I’ve written about that somewhere before. Walking down the street you’ll find so many people lost in their own world instead of enjoying the world directly in front of them. It’s the main reason I don’t use music when I’m working out. I want to be in the moment and feel it.

And yes, it’s interesting that so many of us are afraid to show our feelings. Like it makes us seem weak. In fact, I (and probably most other people) appreciate when someone shows their feelings.

Kacper

Yeah, I believe it’s very possible that a lot of what I say you have already written earlier and I’ve just read it. :)

About this whole being afraid to show feelings thing — when you show feelings you make it easier for others to attack you. Or it seems like you make it easier. It’s an ‘established knowledge’ that if you don’t care no one can hurt you. So why would you? It’s easier to keep up appearances.

Roy Naim

Yesterday I called up Verizon for some phone issues. When the representative picked up the phone and went through the whole script, I said to her “Angela, how are you today?”. Her response? WHAT? She was shocked that someone asked her how she was doing in a sincere way. She said it was a breather to talk to someone who doesn’t just jump on the phone and demands.

I make it a point, whenever I take the subway to say “Good day” to the people in the booth/the driver of the bus and they remember me by name now. They once told me, no one does that anymore.

I think we live in a society where one’s self esteem is at war. When we don’t think we are worthy of a gift, a thank you, a hello. We live in a place where “let me just do my thing” and “get it over with” mentality. All this has an impact in the way we connect with others. All this comes as a surprise when someone “goes out of their way” to show appreciation.

In regards to people emailing you, I think that stems from the fact that so many leaders don’t show appreciation like you do. SO many leaders don’t bother to read emails though they say send me emails. They become too busy for the “everyday” people. I understand they don’t have to answer every email that comes through but don’t encourage it either. Don’t have people comment and not get involved.

Maybe they do appreciate the people that made them into a leader. They say it. But they don’t always show it.

I think that is why people are surprise when you take your time to answer. Because indeed you are the exception in this case.

When I was thinking about becoming a social worker, a person who I looked up to told me “Roy, I hope you don’t do it. You have a huge heart who cares for people and by becoming a social worker, they often teach you that people are numbers. That this person is just another case. And you, specifically you, shouldn’t have your heart tainted in that way”. So, I didn’t become a social worker but I do believe that I have done a lot more, with a person touch, because of it.

I am in the process in learning NLP now. One of the things is to recognize that there is a human being, a complex human being, listening to you. Not a case. Not a number. A human being.

It bothers me a lot. I don’t really know the answer to this. Just my thoughts.

Karol

Thanks Roy. Interesting regarding being a social worker: I’ve heard the same thing from people who are social workers. It’s unfortunate that they have to dehumanize it to actually do the job.

As far as self esteem: this is something I can relate to on a personal level. And I agree. From the media to our peers, our self esteems are at war. Thankfully, it is a war we can win. :)

Thursday Bram

Once upon a time, I wrote for the college newspaper at my school. It was a small school — less than 4,000 undergraduates — and I knew a lot of the people who popped up in the articles we wrote. That includes the negative articles: the student government member who misappropriated funds, the football player who passed away, the girl who got raped. I quickly got the feeling that the only way to handle the situation appropriately was to separate myself while I was writing, which isn’t so easy to come back from.

I had thought about going into reporting as a career, but I figured out that I couldn’t handle it. The sort of writing I do now lets me remember that the people I write about are real — that I should do what I can to help them, rather than cover a problem without passion.

Karol

Thanks for sharing Thursday. I never thought about the fact that journalists have to separate themselves from the writing. It makes sense though.

I’m glad you’re able to write directly to and for awesome people and feel good about it now. :)

Laurie

Thursday, I think of that often when I see the garbage the press writes about celebraties…they stumble, and they’re plastered all over People magazine, and I can’t help but wonder what it’s like to be them. They are human too, with human emotions and hurts and the capacity to screw up once in awhile. I can’t imagine what it’s like to make a mistake and have it known the world over, with whatever spin the press chooses to slam them with. I see things like that, and hope those celebraties have people near who truly love and support them.

cindy

I have only been following the minimalist blogs and idealogy for just a few weeks to maybe 2 months, but have found that there is so much good basic info here that people are not being taught from the get go.
We fail to recognize that we are more than a number for the same reason that we over consume. We are taught to be consumers from infancy and we are taught to be another number or faceless member of society from birth. Our vital statics at birth are our height and weight, then we are assigned a medical record number. We then get a SS#, we get a student id #, bank accounts and credit cards come with #’s.
In school we often try to blend into the crowd so as not to have the teacher call on us in class. We try to conform with our peers so we don’t stick out. Of course there are always those few who “march to the beat of their own drummer” and others who are too fearful, jealous or unwilling to take the risk therefore sabotage their own chances to fulfill their dreams.
If we do some act of kindness or try to help someone out we are called brown nosers, or that we are trying to get something in return. We have not been taught the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
We are taught the negative from early on and somehow forget that we have this tremendous “positivity” to reach and aim for. We are also taught that we have to look out for number one and don’t let anyone take what is ours away from us. We also have lost the need to be accountable for our own actions, we can always sue someone for our own acts of negligence that somehow injures us.
Our society is perpetuating these ideals. That is why I am eagerly reading as much as I can on blogs like this. Thanks for helping to open my eyes to these problems.

Karol

You bring up a lot of good points Cindy. The question is, how do we stop all of that from happening? How do we make it so we’re not just numbers, not trying to hide amongst the masses?

Paul Carlson

Why don’t we add the personal touch? Too busy. Moving too fast. Not taking the time to experience the present.

But we’re missing out, both the giver and the receiver.

This summer I received the postcard from Karol (from India). It said something like “Keep Freedom Fighting!” I was like, “Wha…? …How??” and then realized….. ah! PayPal puts my address on the receipt.

That’s *how* he did it. The beauty of it was Why he did it.

It was a brilliant personal touch. (And I didn’t think it was creepy, but my wife was a little weirded out for a minute there… :)

Here’s the thing: There is so much good stuff happening in this slice of the internet that this one little postcard put Karol (and what he’s doing) at the front of my radar.

Know what happened when the Minimalist Book Sale launched? I hardly gave it a second thought and hit Buy It Now. You could say I’m hooked.

But that little postcard is also doing a small part in helping me keep my focus on what I’m learning here.

So for what it’s worth, several hours spent sending out a pile of postcards (giving that personal touch) have resulted in at least one person’s taking a minute to stop and receive, and reflect, and more. Thanks for that, man.

Great topic today. We need to take the time for this. I think it makes a difference.

Karol

Wow, awesome! Thank you and you’re welcome Paul! ;)

P.S. Sorry to weird out your wife. hehe

Chantelle

Hey Karol… its been a while. Thank you for the special invitation to comment.

I often have to overcome thoughts of being small. I have to listen to motivational CDs everyday on my way to drop off the kids. I have to journal my thoughts and prayers and force myself to remember that I am somebody. I have value. I add significance on a global scale. You know… “fake it til you make it” kinda stuff.

It is easy not to write a thank you note. It is easy not to eat the apple a day and do the five push ups (reference to Jim Rohn). I think the lower level thoughts (ie. “I’m just another reader, not really important”; or “No one is gonna even know that it was me who picked up that paper off the floor so I’ll just leave it there”) are just easier to come by. The higher level thoughts take more energy.

But practice makes perfect. I find that your invitations are quite motivating. You can (as you already have) use your motivational power to ask people to practice being more than a nameless cog in a wheel all throughout the day. You can motivate us toward perfection :-)

Karol

Thanks Chantelle. “The higher level thoughts take more energy.” Wow, great point! Practice does make it better. I don’t always show appreciation when I should. I think it’s an important step to simply be conscious of when we do and do not show appreciation. That makes it easier the next time.

Allison

I think we sometimes get caught up in wanting to be liked and numbers seem like the only way to measure it. We all crave personal connection, which can make us grab at any possibility of attention from the masses rather than fostering what we already have on a deeper level. I think it’s drilled into us from the time we’re born that more = better…but to me, it goes back to the saying, “It’s ok to be just one person to the world if you’re the world to one person.”

Karol

Thank you Allison. “We all crave personal connection, which can make us grab at any possibility of attention from the masses rather than fostering what we already have on a deeper level.” There it is. We crave personal attention, yet grasp and yearn for impersonal attention. Interesting how that works, huh?

Elle Dougherty

I think people feel they deserve certain things & therefore do not need to be thankful for them. We have a tendency to only take notice when something goes wrong. For example, I was guilty of being upset when my Sunday newspaper wasn’t delivered. Then I stopped to think, when have I expressed any thanks for the 51 weeks of consistent delivery?

Pop-culture glorifies entitlement & unappreciative behavior (another reason to ditch your TV). Also the news media focuses on negative stories. Call up your local station & see if they would do a report about how you mowed your neighbors lawn & he thanked you with a homemade pie…boring! But what if your neighbor vandalized your house and shot your dog? I can hear it now, “See the shocking photos!” “Are you living next to a terrorist?” Maybe I should have posted that in the comments on your Good Deeds discussion.

I too was totally blown away that you took the time to read my very first blog post (and a bit embarrassed at my lack of blogging skills). Thank you for that & for writing such an awesome inspiring site!

Karol

Elle, I think it’s awesome that you even stopped to think about the 51 weeks you didn’t show appreciation after the 1 week there was a mistake. That shows you care about people. I feel like most of us would’ve kept being pissed about the 1 week and not look inward at our own mis-steps.

I fully agree with your pop-culture statement … definitely another great reason to ditch the TV. :)

Dea

I grow up listening to everyone saying that “you get what you give” from life, from people, especially. I guess not only me, but a bunch of people grow up listening to this, because now on days people are only acting expecting for something back. And even obligated to give something back. Its all about trading. If someone gives or offer you something, you HAVE to give it back. You dont expect them to be spontaneous nice or generous. People are usually not spontaneous anymore.

Every year, I always spend time handy making, creating, and personalizing greetings cards that I send out to my friends all around the world. I love to take the time to tell them how much I love them, miss them and appreciated the time that we had spent together (or saying how much I would love to spend time together with them). I do enjoy to be one special (me and my card), even tho by the end of the year, I might be just another number to be added at the pile of cards people use to receive. This never stopped me and I keep on doing. Some people do answer me back, both calling me or emailing me to say thanks, but a bunch of them never bother to answer or to let me know they got it, unless I asked them about it. Again, this never stopped for doing it. Some of them, funny enough, didnt want to share their address with me, because they said that they were too busy to send me one back and they would feel bad that I am the only one giving. They felt the obligation to be nice and friendly.

I had the same problem recently with a friend that refused a gift I bought him, because he said that he never got me anything, so I should stop giving him gifts. One day, we went out, and he wanted to stop in whatever shop to buy me something, just because he wanted to be “even” with me. That was my time to say, no thanks, but I didnt want to receive something because he felt obligated to do so.

Moments like that made me think 2 things:

1. sometimes got me thinking if I should stop doing it. If I should stop being spontaneous and show people my love and appreciation if this was really bothering them somehow. It didnt stop me tho. First because I cant control at being spontaneous. Its stronger than me. Second, because love doesnt hurt. At some point they will realize that and accept it. I use give them an example of when they were just little babies.. when they were spoiled from their parents… and they used to thank this moment with an spontaneous smile. A big baby smile and mom and dad would melt away. Go back and act like baby and smile at everyone…

2. but also made me think that I should choose better the people around me, and the ones that I am showing my love and appreciation. I think that finding the right people goes to this case as well, because I dont want to have a fight every time that I want to be nice and spread love away.

get a balance between number 1 and 2 has being the challenging… but totally worth it!

(Sorry if is a too big comment… :s )

Karol

Thank you so much Dea. Thank you for being your amazing self and taking the time to show people you care.

I tend to agree that the people who don’t reciprocate love and appreciation probably aren’t your right people. These days sending an SMS or an e-mail only takes a minute and if somebody doesn’t have even a minute for you then why invest in that relationship. (There could, of course, be something else going on with them so this is not necessarily black and white.) It goes back to what I wrote about in Luxury of Less … it’s important to have a few good friends instead of a lot of “not really” friends.

simply stephen

Karol…not sure if I’ve commented before but I’ve been following you for a little while. We have many of the same mantras but THANK YOU, THANK YOU for continue to drive home the point that we are all people that deserve interaction, care and a response (at least once in a while).

I have been talking about quality and care for a while now…and live a dangerous minimalist life on the edge. I publicly blog about it. But when someone decides to ignore me I generally give them a chance and then unfollow everything they do. If I’m not important to them…why should I listen to them.

If we all adopted this attitude…perhaps we’d have a lot more quality, care and service with a lot less time spent trying to keep on top of our emails and social media.

Karol

You’re welcome and thank you Stephen. :) I also tend to “unfollow” people who don’t give me the time of day. There are too many wonderful people out there who actually care to waste time on people who don’t.

Emily Youngs

I forget the source, but I remember reading somewhere that there was a study done on the effect of money upon empathy. It was found that participants who were conditioned to think about money prior to passing a person slumped in a doorway were far less likely to stop to assist them than were people in the control group.

Not to say that money is the root of all evil, but I do believe that the combination of our current economic climate and the profit-focused, consumer-driven, media-perpetuated environment we have created for ourselves has something to do with it (certainly in my area of the USA).

Sadly, researchers are also discovering that college students are much less empathetic than they used to be (study spans 1979-2009). Empathy scores dropped nearly 40% from three decades ago. “They have become polarized and deeply cynical. Young Americans are unable to elicit feelings of concern for others with the same ease that their parents did nearly a couple of decades ago.”

Scary. I’m glad to see there are others out there who are concerned about this! Thanks for bringing up this topic…

Karol

Thank you Emily. I remember reading that study as well. I almost feel like Malcolm Gladwell wrote about it in one of his books, but maybe I’m way off base.

I can relate to the cynicism. I used to be incredibly cynical. It’s a horribly depressing way to live life. So what’s the answer? Is there an answer? How do we stop being such a cynical society?

Emily Youngs

Ah, yes! It was probably from The Tipping Point or Outliers. I’d have to dig through my half-unpacked library to verify ;)

I’m not sure what the answer is. We almost need the Ghostbusters to slime us and play “Your Love Keeps Lifting Me” to get out of this funk! But seriously… I think it has to happen on a grassroots level. Like that guy and his Free Hug campaign. There is a Liberty Mutual ad that depicts a person doing a small act of kindness for someone. An observer is then inspired by that act and does something kind for someone else. This process repeats itself throughout the commercial.

I’m not sure how to inspire kindness on a more grand scale, but I certainly think it starts exactly where we are – which is to constantly perform our own little acts and hope to inspire others to do the same. This is where your “Good Deeds” post comes into play. Perhaps the more people hear about others’ good deeds, the more people will be inspired and – at best – the more doing good deeds will seem “the norm” rather than the exception.

Karol

Free Hugs is awesome. It has spread far and wide. I even saw it in Poland. “Darmowe ?ciski!”

Laurie

Emily, good point about good deeds being “the norm.” I recently started a blog called Channeling the Bliss, all about sharing joy and counterbalancing all the negative stuff you hear in the media. Maybe the reason why we think the world is going to hell in a handbasket is because all we hear is negative stuff on the news, while at the same time people don’t talk about their good deeds. It could very well be that in reality, there’s a lot more good than bad out there. Good folks like Karol, who are getting us all to thinking about stuff like this, can help bring that to light.

Greg

Karol, You’ve elicited a lot of interesting and thoughtful comments and responses. Thanks for creating the opportunity to think about this question and to share. Getting people to become aware and mindful is a first step that can translate into tangible and doable actions. Being grateful and thanking people for helping, whether they are paid for it or not, is something that we can all do. When I was teaching in Japan, one of my schools had a month-long campaign for students, staff, and faculty to make eye contact and to greet people. Some people ignored me, but many more returned a smile and a greeting. We need more talking in our virtual and physical communities so that we can exchange thoughts, opinions, goals, and ideas or just acknowledge the value and presence of others.

Karol

Thank you Greg. Interesting experiment at your school! I’d like to see more schools do “little” things like that.

Kellie Kowalski

I think a lot of it stems from the fact that we are conditioned to be just a number from an early age. Just another kid in an over-crowded classroom, where it’s easier to just blend in with the crowd. Then we become cogs in the corporate system, and the cycle continues. It’s the kind of thing that ends up making us cynical.

I believe in the power of small actions. You send out ripples by saying thank you or baking cookies and simply connecting with others. If one person starts to care, they can make an impact on someone else. Sort of like paying it forward, but by simply acknowledging that whoever is checking out your groceries or sitting next to you on the bus is an actual person.

Emily Youngs

It is amazing what power a genuine smile can have. As a former teacher, I have seen the toughest exteriors crack when presented with a real, genuine smile.

Smiling is reflexive… we can’t help but smile back to a real smile. And it feels great :)

Karol

Thanks Kellie. “If one person starts to care, they can make an impact on someone else.” Yes!

Lisa

“All in all we’re just another brick in the wall…”

One of the earliest places we are taught to conform is in school. Schools can crush individuality, creativity and free-will and some of us never get completely over it. Even if we manage to avoid or break free of those “moral confines”, situations occur throughout our lives that could trigger us to shut down to our true Selves.

“Good morning, Worm your honor.
The crown will plainly show
The prisoner who now stands before you
Was caught red-handed showing feelings,
Showing feelings of an almost human nature;
This will not do. Call the schoolmaster!”

Societal judgments and potential humiliation (bullying) can lead some people to keeping up appearances in order to blend in and not be noticed. Sometimes you can see the pain in people’s eyes, if they allow themselves to look into yours.

“Since, my friend, you have revealed your
Deepest fear, I sentence you to be exposed before
Your peers. Tear down the wall!”

I believe healing a broken spirit is a process; ups and downs along our life path. We’ve all had challenges and disappointments. I try to remember that especially when confronted by angry or rude people. Sometimes I become overpowered by negativity and my best gift is to withdraw and take a time-out away from others so I don’t pass that on.
More often though, I am motivated to choose to see the positive and take the initiative to pay that forward. Something as simple as a postcard from Goa still has me pushing forward with optimism. :-D

Great thought (and action?) provoking post, thanks Karol!

(Apologies for the long comment – I drifted off to sleep while pondering a reply and woke up with these tunes from Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”.)

Karol

Thanks Lisa. “I believe healing a broken spirit is a process.” I agree. It’s a process that we need to implement sooner rather than later. And by sooner I mean now. :)

Laurie

These are very thought-provoking questions, Karol…I’ll be pondering my answers for days, I think. The thing that hit me first was your statement “you are more than a number to me.” This made my day, because for the most part when I try to make contact with someone I admire, I’m always really surprised when I get a response of any kind, much less something personal using my name. We tend to divide people up into “us peons” and “the famous ones.” There’s a wall there that’s hard to cross, I suppose because when you’re famous or even semi-famous, you just can’t respond to every single fan because there simply are not enough hours in the day. I try to keep this in mind, especially when I meet a musician or other artist I’ve loved for years. Just because they’ve been on my radar forever, doesn’t mean they’ll be able to acknowledge me in a meaningful way. There are so many who want their attention.

In my experience at work, the majority of comments or responses I get are complaints. If something doesn’t go right, people feel compelled to let you know about it…but if something goes right, that’s the way it’s supposed to be, so they just go on about their busy lives without comment. I sometimes have days where I feel like crying on the way home from work, because of the unhappy customers with jobs that needed to be corrected. And then there are days when just one small “thank you” with a smile made my entire day shine. And I try to do this wherever I go, saying “please” and “thank you” with a smile, because I know how it feels to be at work all day and never hear either one. My parents taught me to be kind and considerate to people, and I honestly don’t know why that’s gone by the wayside. It’s such a small thing that can mean so much. Being busy and rushed should not excuse people from treating others kindly.

Thank you, Karol, for acknowledging your readers the way you do. I read your stuff and can truly believe that I’m a rockstar, too! It makes a big difference.
Keep rockin’, my friend!
Laurie in Michigan

Karol

Thank you Laurie. Regarding meeting fans: this is why I love what Penn Jillette from Penn & Teller said at BlogWorld. Him and Teller hang out every night after each show and meet every person who wants to meet them. “Is it really too much trouble for us to spend a minute saying hello to each person who was kind enough to spend their evening with us?” That’s paraphrased, but it really made me respect him more. I can understand at a certain point not being able to answer e-mails … Gary V reached that point after a couple of years. But most people will never receive as many e-mails as Gary V. :) That’s a bit of a tangent. Anyway, thank you, I’m glad this article sparked some thoughts. :)

Anilia

Laurie I agree with everything you said and was going to respond similarly.

I wonder if people inflate their sense of importance, or people minimize their own importance, in order to get to this me vs. famous person divide?

I try to be courteous and acknowledge people too. My day job is in customer service, and I can go all week without a kind word or thank you. Then I’ll have one sincere, heartfelt thanks and I’ll want to cry from the feeling of accomplishment, acknowledgement and simply being thought of as more than a government drone.

At the end of the day we’re not better or less than anyone else. We’re all worthy, but somehow that truth has been lost. So has the commonness of courtesy and consideration…

Meg

There is too much insincerity in our culture, primarily from advertising, and in the company-mandated assembly-line behavior of cashiers and clerks. Examples: advertisers who are selling you something because “they care”, and the cashier who says “have a nice day” but there’s no eye contact, the manner is robotic, dismissive, or monotone. This forced intimacy everywhere we turn is guaranteed to make us feel like nonentities. It also keeps us from reaching out, because acts of civility and kindness have become devalued, phony, insultingly insincere. We don’t want to act in ways we ourselves have found to be off-putting. Not many people can say, “you’re not a number to me,” and not come off as smarmy. So it doesn’t happen, or at least not without a lot of context, as you did in this post.

Your idea of telling people about good deeds, acts of kindness and charity, is intended to create a culture where such acts are the norm. But how do you create a massive change in behavior or attitude without marketing it? See the problem? The minute something gets talked up it gets marketed, and that is the ultimate devaluation. In my heart I may really want you to have a nice day, a great day, but because I want to slap the idiots who tell me that at the checkout, I hesitate to say it when I do mean it–because I wouldn’t want you to feel like a number.

The solution, to which I alluded in the beginning, might be to have a lot of context for public acts of kindness and gratitude. Random acts of kindness are best kept quiet. Most of all a keen sense of Right Action would be required to keep from destroying one’s credibility. Ironically, this nose for what the public will or will not tolerate is an element of marketing.

Now that I’ve boxed myself into a corner, Karol, will you help me out ;D

Karol

Thanks for your thoughts Meg.

I think a decent first step is not to think of the people at checkout as idiots you want to slap. :) I don’t know a single person who could stand on their feet all day dealing with shitty customers and still sincerely care whether their “have a nice day” comes across as sincere.

John

Good post and great comments. I find ‘being a number’ can provide perspective. I feel thoughtful when I think of all the people in the world and all the stars in the sky. I do find myself using different filters when I use the internet, hand write letters, talk on the phone, and interact with someone in person. I find sensitivity, honesty, and living in the moment help me balance all these interactions.

Karol

Wow! Thanks John. That is a great way of looking at things. :)

Jeff Golfman

Good blog post thank you!! It is amazing how we have reduced face time and replaced it with facebook time. We no longer treat people with respect and dignity. we no longer have real human interactions and connections.

Each and every day i am amazed at how often i experience poor service and or rude behavior and/or negativity. Yet it seems so normal to us all.

I think the only way to change this pattern is one person at a time and it has to begin within ourselves. Then we can hopefully motivate and inspire others to act with loving kindness.

jeff Golfman
the cool vegetarian

Karol

Thanks Jeff. Yes, it starts with us. :)

Anthea

Thank you for being awesome :)

Karol

hehe, thank you Anthea :)

Nina Yau

It makes me sad when people say, “I know I’m a nobody, or not as successful as you, but …..” because they’ve already labeled themselves as a “nobody” without realizing the actual effects of such detrimental thoughts! But hey, that’s cool about the postcard mailing you did. How wonderfully awesome!!

Karol

I agree Nina. I don’t think people realize how much those thoughts screw them up.

SherwinJTB

I revisit this subject many times. Especially when I was studying in university. Getting that degree based on the result of your final grade. To me those multiple choice questions were just numbers. A measure of how much you understand. Like the famous millionaire questions. Is that your final answer? Lock in A Sherwin. When I play games my Blade Knight’s current level is 240 on Mu Online. My XXX damage is the measure of how strong I am. I doubt we can escape this expectation throughout life.

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