I have a very driven friend who gets so wrapped up in her own dramas that she sometimes barrels through life unaware of how she interacts with other people. She’s very smart, incredibly determined (read: stubborn), has a good heart and has only the best of intentions. She is introspective and self-aware. This is how she sees herself, and she’s right.
The people she interacts with often see her as thoughtless, insensitive, uncaring and bull-headed. She is self-centered and clueless. And so she is.
We each look out at the world from our own unique point of view. But too many of us, too often, walk through our days with blinders on, seeing only our own needs in front of us. We get so fixated on our problems, our work, our sick parents, our text messages and our aches and pains, that we cease to be aware of how our behaviors impact other people or even of what those behaviors are.
We don’t mean to be irritating. We stop in front of the dairy case to chat with a friend, two carts with two oblivious operators delighted to reconnect but blocking the fat-free yogurt like a sumo wrestler in a turnstile. We don’t mean to be dangerous. Still, there we are, checking our mascara in the rear-view mirror at 40 miles an hour.
My inattention drives me crazy. I put away the plates in the dish drainer while I’m on the phone, then wonder why I can’t remember what day my dad said he’s flying in. Have I already brushed my teeth? Oh, yes, look, the light on the electric toothbrush is flashing. How did I get that nasty bruise? No idea.
But those things affect only me. I fear that someday my inattention will prove more than an inconvenience. Will I alienate a colleague because I call her by the wrong name? Rear-end the driver in front of me because I’m looking at a cloud formation? I’ve read all kinds of books on mindfulness, repeatedly tried meditating, resolved to revel in each bite, do just one thing at a time. I’m still a multitasking mess.
My friend from the first paragraph, I realized today, really does express concern for her fellow human beings – but only when she’s not focused on something else. Our inattention not only separates us from our fellow human beings, it separates us from our own lives. And that’s something that should make all of us sit up and take notice.