When I was struggling in high school to get the passing grades I needed to get my Baccalaureat, there was this guy I barely knew whose name is Clément, who always greeted me with a smile so bright I felt I was the most important person in the world at that exact moment. His smile, his way of looking at me with a mix of kindness and happiness… There was something soothing and comforting in that smile. He also said my name when saying hello. Not just “‘mornin'”. He seemed to care.
It sounds like nothing, right ?
Every morning I take the bus to go to University.
Whenever someone else is waiting for the bus next to me, I let them go first, and I smile to them while they look at me to know whether I want to get on or not. Then I look the driver in the eye, I smile at them and say “hello, sir” or “hello, madam”, before I proceed walking towards my seat.
Sometimes they answer, sometimes not. Sometimes they answer in a nice way, most of the time they do not. Sometimes the person before me smiles back at me, most of the time they don’t even look at me.
I don’t care. I don’t do it to feel like I am a good person or even to be polite. I do it because I think it is simple, it doesn’t require any effort on my part, or barely any effort (on a rainy day), and I learned first hand that a smile, even coming from a person you virtually never talk to and whom you only know the first name of, can make your day. I know that a tiny bit of politeness, a little something of gentleness can lighten your day even in a sea of indifference.
Our society is a society of mass culture. Of mass production. Of mass information. We have never been as aware of the rest of the world as we are today, and tomorrow we will be even more so.
In a society where interactions are so frequent, in which the knowledge of the issues of others is so easy to access, long story short, in a society in which it is not possible anymore to make the argument that we cannot know what others are going through, citizenship takes on a whole new meaning.
Every day you deal with people who will never remember you, your face or even the sound of your voice. Every day you see a cashier, an attendant, someone who’s job is to deal with an incredible amount of different people every single day, and for only a couple of minutes – or seconds – every time. But you have your own schedule, your own issues, don’t you ?
I will not ask you to think of what this person feels or experiences. I will ask you to think of yourself as that person. Because you are this person. Every day some person acts like a rude and selfish idiot (and the word is chosen with care) to you. And you will resent them, and you will talk about it to your friends, family… You will deal with the frustration, the pain, the pressure that this sort of small event adds to your already complicated life by using violence, whether through words or acts, and it will work, you will feel better. You will say things like “this guy was a real douche”, to which your sympathizing friends will answer “people today don’t give a damn about other people anymore.”
Yet it will go on. Every day. And your complaints will do nothing about it. On the contrary, you will be one of the elements of a chain antagonizing people to each other.
When you get on a bus, you can say “hello, sir” or “good afternoon, m’am” instead of “hi”. You can have a smile on your face and consciously make it reach your eyes to be polite, but mainly to show that not only do you acknowledge the person you are talking to, but you respect them, and you consider their work as both necessary to the needs of society, but also to your personal comfort.
Because you do exactly the same thing everyday, no matter what your job is.
Too much information can blind and deafen you. Because our world is so loud with the perpetual information that we have no choice but receive, sometimes we just forget that what we know about others, others know about us.
Each person you deal with is responsible for your well being, and you are responsible for the weel being of every single person you will meet today, tomorrow, and for the rest of your life.
Being a citizen doesn’t just mean you should vote once in a while and read the newspapers to be informed.
Being a citizen means you have the duty to help create a healthy atmosphere for you and your fellow citizens to cooperate, live together and fix society’s shortcomings and flaws together.
Don’t be mean. Be Meaningful.