“When we get too caught up in the busyness of the world, we lose connection with one another—and ourselves.” ~Jack Kornfield
I had to work on Easter at my job in a coffee shop. I missed out on my family’s big holiday party, and I struggled with quite a bit of resentment about the whole deal. I could have gotten someone to cover for me, but because I’m one of the more experienced employees and we were short-staffed, I was told that I needed to work.
I wasn’t too terribly happy. I came in to work and immediately launched into the craziness of Easter in a coffee shop, sliding Americanos to travelers across the counter with a stone face.
I was amazed at how unforgiving people were. I thought that Easter would bring out the best in people, but it seemed to make some act grumpier and more disconnected. Many of them weren’t happy for the same reason that people are grumpy at Christmas: They hate spending extended time with family.
So I slogged through the day, helping grumpy people stay awake on the road to a place where they didn’t want to go, when suddenly a single interaction changed the course of my day: A man came in, greeted us warmly while he ordered his coffee, and then apologized.
“I’m sorry that you have to work so that schmucks like me can have their coffee.”
This one sentence transformed my whole day. This guy had gone out of his way to connect with us, and made made me feel both happy and ashamed—happy that there was someone out there who didn’t get too caught up in his own troubles to connect; ashamed that I had fallen into that very trap myself.
When did we substitute busyness for real living? A majority of people out there go through their lives numb, not connecting with the people around them, not enjoying their lives. They simply exist, floating through life. I call them “the living dead” because they’ve allowed so many parts of themselves to die: passion, energy, connection, joy.
They settle for a life of greasy food, distracting entertainment, and the accumulation of possessions.
It’s not enough.
If you suspect that you might be one of the living dead, start examining your life. Do you connect with people, or do you just gloss over everyday interactions? Do you notice interesting and beautiful things about life, or do you go through your day like you are a machine, operating on force of habit and routine?
When was the last time you truly forgot your busy day in the pleasure of a conversation with someone you didn’t know?
Reach out to people. Ask them their names. Make a connection. Forget about your busy day, if only for a second, and try to validate someone else.
Thank someone who has served you well.
If you don’t—if you fail to give attention to waiters, baristas, gas station attendants, and maybe even your coworkers—you’ll start to lose touch with your humanity as well.
I’d lost touch with my humanity that day. I was so caught up in my own anger and disappointment that I became a member of the living dead. I went through the motions of daily life without looking for perspective, without looking into the faces of the people around me and attempting to connect. It’s incredibly easy to fall into numbness.
Reach Out to the Living Dead
Maybe you make the leap. Everyone has their bad days, but maybe you’re usually like the guy who came in the coffee shop on Easter: You try to connect with people and treat them the way they should be treated, but you’re frustrated with the living dead. They seem to stubbornly resist any attempts at communication.
My advice (from years of being a member of the living dead): keep trying. There’s a human down there somewhere, and if you keep working away at their hardened exterior, you’ll get there eventually, and the work will be worth it.
Remember, you have worth
If you’re a member of the living dead, today or often, I’m not saying that you’re worthless, or you somehow resemble a zombie. You’re a human being, you’re unique, and you have incredible worth.
We all have living dead days. Just do your best to start moving out of the pattern of disconnection. Go out of your way to reach out. People are occasionally going to ignore you, be grumpy toward you, insult you. Remember when dealing with them that, just as you have unique worth, they do too.
Treat them with respect, even when they’re not very respectful to you. Why should you do this? Shouldn’t you just be nasty back to them and cut them out of your life? Definitely not. The fastest way to become a member of the living dead is to treat them as sub-human. Keep this in your mind as you live your life: You are unique and have worth.
So does that server that you have the chance to tip.
So does your boss.
So does that Wal-Mart greeter.
So does that surly mechanic.
So does that barista who is skipping out on Easter to serve Americanos.
We all have worth. And we all have a choice to recognize and honor it in each other.
Photo by Peter Alfred Hess