I am currently on campus and should be reading an assigned book, but instead I found myself here. Oops. Well, this has been on my mind for a bit, so let’s get right into it.
The other day I was driving home, and the car in front on me had a bumper sticker on the back that read “You Matter.” It was not the first or the last time I’ve seen this while driving. The signs are abundant. However, this time it struck me as odd that a car was telling me that I mattered, and it spurred a whole bunch of other thoughts about how, as a society, we can actually make people believe they matter.
Let me first say that I feel very positively about these signs. I think whoever’s idea it was to strategically place them in as many places as possible is a far more magnanimous person than myself. I also think that people do need to know they are valued.
BUT. I don’t think it should stop there. ALSO. This is just my experience, but when I pass by the signs or see them on the back of the car, it makes me happy, but it doesn’t make me feel or believe I am valued. It certainly restores my faith in humanity that someone cares enough to make those signs, but it doesn’t make me think any differently about myself.
Okay, story time.
On my first day of school this term, I went to use the bathroom and was fluffing up my hair a bit in the mirror when a woman next to me said, “You have beautiful curls.” I responded with exuberant sincerity, “Thank you! That is so sweet!” The whole interaction made me feel warm and fuzzy inside. I didn’t care if she thought my hair looked good, but the fact that she chose to say something positive and affirming, when she could have chosen to not, made me feel cared for. She didn’t get anything out of that interaction; her motive was to make someone else feel good. And it worked. Walking out of the bathroom, I had a pep in my step and a welling in my chest that wasn’t there before. (I would be remiss if I did not add that complimenting people does take tact. It doesn’t always feel good to be complimented if it’s in the wrong setting or is delivered with a sexual/sexist undertone.)
Cut to later in the day when I am taking the bus home.
I’ve taken this specific bus line many times. There is this one spot along the road where we don’t stop for a few miles. Usually the screen at the front of the bus lights up with the name of the next stop, however, during this specific interlude, nothing is on the screen. As soon as we passed the last illuminated stop before mine, I pulled the cord to signal I wanted to stop at the next stop. A few minutes later, the bus driver pulled over at a stop that we had never stopped at before, and I realized my mistake. Oops again.
I now know that there are two stops before mine that probably only get stopped at if someone pulls the cord. I had no way of knowing this at the time, but oh well. So, I yell to the bus driver, “Sorry, I meant the one up there.” Poor choice of words on my end. We drive for a few more minutes and then he yells back “Do you want to stop on the left or the right?” I was very confused, because, you see, we always stop on the right of the road. (Not my brightest moment.) So, I responded, “99W and Tualatin-Sherwood, on the right”. After all, I am not SO high maintenance that I would want him to stop on the other side of the road…I can only assume he only heard “on the right”.
Next thing I know, we are stopping at the second previously unknown bus stop. The driver shouts, “This is the last stop on the right.” I am so baffled at this point, I don’t really say anything. I just stay sitting in my seat…although, I almost got out at that point out of sheer awkwardness. The lady directly behind me suddenly says in a very exasperated tone, “Get your shit together, would you?!”. For a second, I thought she was talking about the bus driver…silly me. I looked back at her perplexed and then instantly realized she was talking to me. We had a brief exchange that ended with me assuring her that I would not do that again(…duh). I understand her frustration, and I did feel bad that I was the cause of two unnecessary stops.
That interaction stayed with me for the next hour, at least. Even if I didn’t show it, I was riled up and annoyed that someone could be so rude.
One positive interaction of unexpected kindness made me feel great…for about 15 minutes. One negative interaction of unexpected rudeness made me feel awful for about 1 hour.
Hmmmm….see, I am baiting you all into coming to the same mind-blowing conclusion I reached.
Being nice to people shows them they matter. Being shitty to people shows them they don’t matter.
Easy, right? Hmph. Yeah, right. Why is it so easy for us to criticize someone and so difficult to encourage someone?
Here’s my point…in case it wasn’t obvious. Let’s not leave it up to one person trying to maximize their kindness through signs on the road to show people we care. I am not great at this. It’s awkward sometimes. It takes vulnerability. But it’s selfish not to. Sorry to put it so bluntly, but it really is selfish and self-centered to be a jackass. But we make it okay. UGH, this frustrates me so much. Let’s stop justifying rude, angry, and volatile behavior towards others. (Note: I am NOT talking about getting angry at someTHING, an idea/ideology, or even groups of people. That’s different. I am talking about one-on-one, personal interactions.) If you think it’s important for people to know they are valued, SHOW THEM THEY ARE VALUED.