You cannot have humanity without humans.
It is easier to marginalize someone – or to forget about them entirely – if they are not thought of as a real person. Lump them together, give them a collective label and move on.
This is how we so easily fall into an us-versus-them mindset. If you are ‘in’, then all is good. It is the ‘out’ you have to worry about, right?
Or sometimes it is just a lack of awareness. That our own single-mindedness creates an artificial distance and mental barrier. Nothing nefarious – or even intentional, for that matter – but the result is the same.
I was reminded of this recently.
As I was hurriedly pushing a cart towards my targeted aisle at the grocery, I heard a voice from an unnoticed source to my side. A passing glance revealed that it was a stocker working to replenish shelves. He had asked, “How are you today, sir?”
I almost missed it entirely.
His delivery was unenthusiastic, as if someone had told him to do so. Or perhaps it was the accumulated frustration from being continually ignored. I paused, took two steps backwards to make eye contact and answered, “I am having a good day; how about you?”
It was a simple exchange. One that took no more than 10 seconds out of my overloaded day. But for that brief moment, humanity was restored. Right there in the aisles of a Kroger.
It doesn’t take much.
Nameless, Faceless by Courtney Barnett
Courtney Barnett is such a wonderful lyricist. Each song tells a story – and packs a punch. This one contains contains a gem: “I could eat a bowl of alphabet soup and spit out better words than you.” The first time I heard that line, it elicited a chuckle. In listening again, the context makes it have a sad and sharper edge.