I was standing on the corner when it happened. A cyclist was in the bike lane when a car took a left hand turn into his path. He tumbled off his bike, hopped up, dropped a quick f-bomb, and picked up his bike and smartphone. My friend and I approached him to ask if he was okay.
When the driver of the car got out, the most amazing thing happened. The cyclist walked up to her and said “First of all, I am okay. Are you okay?” She replied, “I am fine. I am so sorry, that was completely my fault.” He went on to explain calmly that he was not looking for her because she was in the other lane and that it is her responsibility to look for him. “I know, I am not sure where I was looking. I did not see you,” she explained. After he assured her that he and his bike seemed to be undamaged, she insisted that he take her phone number in case he discovered something later.
My friend and I looked on in admiration as these two turned a potentially ugly conflict into a really wonderful moment of human connection. This is what we are capable of. Always.
Human connection — belonging — is a profoundly important aspect of wellbeing. Research suggests that it may be the single greatest predictor of health, happiness, and longevity. On the other hand, living in a vigilant mode by constantly looking for threats in our social environment takes a significant toll on our bodies and minds.
Unfortunately, we are living in a time when opposing the “other” appears to be the default. Political debate, news reporting, and social movements often feel that they are defined by who they are against rather than what they are for. Whether it is because of skin color, gender, ethnicity, country of origin, economic status, political beliefs — lines of opposition are being drawn, access is being denied, names are being called, and self-righteousness is being justified.
Perhaps more concerning is that listening, understanding, compassion, decency, and basic human connection are being confused with weakness or a lack of conviction. This is to the detriment of our physical, psychological, and social health. The courage to connect in the face of conflicting views or disparate backgrounds is one of our greatest attributes as human beings. And, it turns out, it is good for our wellbeing — as individuals and as a species.
For thousands of years, there has been a clear message from a variety of wisdom traditions — unconditional love is available to us in even the most difficult moments. We can transcend our knee-jerk instinct for aggression or self-defense.
Further, cultivating and accessing our incredible human capacity for compassion on a daily basis is a practice that has a multitude of health benefits. This practice develops internal resources we can count on when life presents us with unexpected turns and challenges. As Bruce Lee states “Under duress, we do not rise to our expectations — we fall to the level of our training.” We can train ourselves in the skill of kindness and connection everyday.
The power of kindness. This may sound like touchy-feely, new-age, tree-hugging, crystal-sniffing, left-coast propaganda that has no practical application when the rubber hits the road. Perhaps. However, an increasing body of scientific research and a great deal of enduring wisdom suggest that it may be our single greatest hope as a species.
Dave Mochel is a wellbeing coach and consultant who supports people in living peaceful and powerful lives in an anxious and distracted world. You can learn more at www.appliedattention.com or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org