Making life easier for others and yourself
A person's social conscience is evident in the details of everyday communication. I still remember an experience of mine in October 2010 when I was on business trip to Stockholm University. After breakfast, I needed a toothpick and turned to a person I thought to be a member of the wait staff. She amiably took a toothpick from the next table and handed it to me. Then she went on and helped herself to the self-service buffet. It was then that I realised she was a guest at the hotel like me, and not a waitress as I had thought.
Here is another experience, this time in England. After a meal in a restaurant, I asked someone whom I thought was a member of staff for directions to the washroom. He politely accompanied me all the way to the facilities I needed. I later found out he wasn't a member of the hotel staff, either!
And here is a similar tale in August 2011. Laden down with heavy luggage, I ran straight into a heavily armed security guard at Chicago Airport when I was rushing to transfer to another plane. Given his military uniform and weaponry, I was seized with panic. But he was not bothered in the slightest, and repeatedly apologised, saying he should not have been in my way, and offered to accompany me to the gate.
If we delve deeper into this subject, we will find similar examples from the classics. Here is an ancient story taken from Essays & Criticisms. A horse belonging to a lord named Yu Liang in the East Jin Dynasty could not be tamed. The lord was advised to sell the horse. "But if I sell the horse, it might give its new master a very hard time," Lord Yu said. "How can I inflict such misery on someone else?"
We are actually making things easier for ourselves when we make things easier for others. More often than not, if you help out others, you are paving the way for your own future. I recently read another story online. A blind man was walking along a path one night holding a lantern. A bystander was puzzled and asked, "Why are you carrying a lantern? You can't see anyway." The blind man replied, "It's true I cannot see, but nobody will run into me, either."
From these experiences and stories, I feel that people in the West or in the past have a higher degree of social conscience. A friend's experiences in Hong Kong stand in sharp contrast to these stories. Here is one instance. He asked a woman in a ladies' hairdressing salon for some information because he thought she worked there, but she turned on him, looking insulted, and told my friend to ask someone else as she didn't work there.
Life is filled with rich experiences that reflect the social conscience of people living in a particular place. Occasionally we see great acts of heroism in society, such as taking up arms in the fight for justice or people risking their lives to save someone from drowning. But we see just as much evidence of politeness, courtesy and civic duty in the little day-to-day moments that make up life, such as someone's readiness to give directions when asked, someone opening the door for a passerby carrying heavy bags, or someone giving up a seat for a senior citizen.
"Do unto others as you would have them do to you." Isn't this worth emphasizing in this materialistic society of ours?
February 14, 2013