Jay Shirley

Striving to be a man of gallantry and taste

Seeing People for What They Are

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I recently took a trip to New York and knew I could change my life forever. Not by what happened there, but by adjusting my perspective on people. New York is not known as a hospitable place. It’s not known as a city you encounter friends-to-be. I decided to start an experiment.

I have a problem. I’m not alone in this problem, and I didn’t even realize the depth of my problem. I don’t see other people as people. When I don’t know someone, they are only their function. That is to say that a waiter is not a person, they are someone who brings my food to me. A taxi driver is an autonomous car.

This didn’t seem problematic. I was raised to be polite and have always practiced kindness. Politeness and kindness are different than identifying someone as a person. It isn’t relating to them as a deep and unique individual; this is what I need to do. Time to change, and this was an amazing opportunity for an experiment.

At first I really struggled with how to change this long held view. After quite a few encounters until I figured out a method that mostly worked (and probably just seemed creepy until then). I had to narrow my focus to the problem, and only practice if I was interacting with them as part of their job. This change made it easier to acknowledge them as people. I simply thought of myself doing that job. Waking up, going to work and trying to do it. Thinking of what I would need to know. It was a very quick though exercise and it really helped me recognize the people all around me.

Immediately I noticed a difference. I’ve always tried to be kind to everybody. The genuine concern for their well-being was completely absent. If that person was unable to perform their job, I was happy if they were swapped out and unhappy if they remained. These people were commodities, mere robots I expected to perform a function for me.

After I made this mental shift, I tried hard to not alter my words or posturing but the differences were astounding. In most cases, I was immediately involved in deeper conversations. People would ask what I was up to and other personal questions, completely on their own. I had several people ask what I did, and were very surprised when I said I built software products. It was extremely rewarding.

I laughed a lot more. I learned a lot about random people. I talked to a guy about being attacked by pirates. Perhaps most importantly I was unflappable. I was happy and the inevitable speed bumps in life didn’t affect my mood. I think the people I talked with were happier, too. I never felt rushed, nor did I find I was waisting time.

Right now it’s certainly more effort, but all new things are. As I continue to practice I’ll be better at it and more effective. Soon, without thought, this will be the only way I interact with people. That’s my goal now.

I also encountered quite a few people who had no interest in any discussion or interaction. When they would ask, by obligation only, “How are you today?” and I replied and then genuinely asked them in return I invariably received, “Okay‚Ķ” as a response. It was peculiar that the uniform response was a dull, single word answer. I think they simply didn’t know how to respond, and weren’t interested to question why. But that doesn’t matter to me.

I’m not changing my view on people for their response, though. I don’t hold doors for other people to thank me. I believe this is the way people should behave towards others.

Because I believe this, I commit to it.

Because I committed to this, I will do it.