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Recently, I flew to another city. Right before I landed, I looked out the window and was spell-bound by the thousand-foot vantage of the neighborhoods below. This is something I do on every flight – but this time, I had a different experience.

Usually, when I see all the houses and cars and streets, I become overwhelmed with the population. I think, “Every car down there has someone in it and they each have a story.” Each house has a family, complete with their own drama. I am up here enclosed in this flying tube of metal and they are down there, laughing, fighting, living, dying. Then my brain explodes as I extrapolate this to city after city across the country, the continent and then the world. I think, “How can this possibly work? How do all of us continue to exist? What kind of infrastructure does this require?” About this time I shut down emotionally (which is ok, because by then we have landed and my inner rhetoric is usurped by deplaning).

This time, however, my brain had a new thought:

If I could get a message to each and every person down there, what would that message be? What would I want each of them to know?

(Now each of us has a spiritual background, even if that background is to believe nothing – complete with its own set of messages. But this is not actually what this post is about. What I am really talking about is what is YOUR message? in addition to the ideological one?)

I have been pondering this for quite some time – a couple of years, actually – and the last 8 weeks intensely.

Ever trying to narrow my focus and hear my Voice, I believe my message (at least at this writing) is this: You have a choice. You can engage in ways that matter – or not.

With each encounter, you can choose to treat people like objects or like a means to an end (think: check-out person at the grocery store) or like a goal-blocking hindrance (sometimes bosses, children, aging parents) or a paycheck (any client, patient, customer), OR you can see them as HUMAN BEINGS – with feelings, needs, issues, talents, etc.

We each get to choose, multiple times a day how we will interact with this God-breathed creature in front of us.

I regularly fail and succeed at this throughout the day. When I am self-absorbed, stressed, trying to keep my ducks in a row, I treat those around me with less Grace than I wish. I am basically a nice person, so I’m rarely overtly rude, but on those days when I am into my own agenda, I am not always warm. In those moments, I don’t extend a molecule of energy beyond me that I don’t have to. This is part of the introvert curse. But really, the issue is that I don’t SEE the other person – not really. I only see their shell – what they present to me in their particular role.

On the other hand, if I access the part of me that wants to value people, a different ‘me’ shows up. I smile more. I actually make small talk with the person cutting my hair or the teller at the bank. If I acknowledge that every interaction is a chance to bring something to the other person – even if that is summed up by actually looking in their eyes and valuing them for those few seconds, then I have somehow become more human myself.

On my first flight, I did something I’ve never done before – I gave up the coveted isle seat and moved to the dreaded middle one on the other side of the plane, offering my place to a mom who was separated from her 5-year-old son. She assured me that he would be good on the flight, assuming that I didn’t want to sit by the boy; but that isn’t why I offered to switch.

I remember my own little people. They would have been so uncomfortable and sad to be separated from me – even if they could see me across the row. They would have wanted to be with me.

The mother grudgingly accepted my offer, feeling bad for putting me out. But really, it was fine. As the plane was landing, the boy had issues with the change in air pressure and I saw him snuggled up against his mommy, his head in her lap, and she was stroking his hair and telling him to yawn and chew his gum. I was SO glad I had switched; not for me – for them. In that moment of offering my seat, I feel I had an interaction that mattered. (Which felt great.)

We get these opportunities to value those around us dozens of times each day, sadly, missing most of them. Unfortunately, it is so easy to not see people at all. Unless you get deliberate about it. One choice, one engagement at a time.