I had a thought the other day—a thought I’ve had countless times before—but somehow it hit me new this time and now I’m getting excited about its implications. I was thinking to myself how important it is to love other people; to value, respect, and really hear them. I was thinking about how we all want to feel loved, valued, respected and heard, and yet how hard it is to change my everyday interactions with people in order to bring about the changes I want to see.
I want to be a person who loves people. I want to be someone who loves people well; someone who loves people so well that they feel it. Perhaps that seems obvious—that if I love well, people will feel loved, but sometimes I think the connection is not always so clear. We spend so much time living in our own heads—all of us. I can so easily focus on my own desire to be a loving person that I measure all of my interactions with others against my own sense of how well I performed in the loving department. Did I go out of my way to say something kind or extend a helpful gesture? Was I authentic in my approach? Did I go as far as to inconvenience myself in the process? How do I feel at the end of the interaction?
But all these questions, while they seem to be addressing my intention to be loving, are still focused on me. How did I experience that interaction, and do I feel I succeeded in being more loving than I perhaps would have been before I made the conscious decision to work on this? These are questions I am used to asking myself any time I resolve to make a change. If I decide I want to improve my time management, be a more present mother, or be more disciplined with my physical fitness or nutrition, the indicators of my progress almost always focus on my own experience of success or failure.
But I think I may be asking the wrong questions. Because when it comes down to it, certainly in the case of something like loving people, what I really need to focus on is not how I am doing, but how they are. Common sense tells me that if I’m loving people well, then they are feeling loved. And somehow this changes everything.
It takes the pressure off. I don’t have to work so hard anymore to meet my own standards of what it means to love people better (How many store clerks did I smile at today? How many neighbors did I greet?). Now I am really, truly and completely focus on the experience of other people. Did I brighten someone’s day? Did I surprise anyone with kindness? How did I make that person feel valued? How can I next time?
I admit to hiding behind the excuse that my circle of influence feels so small. I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for many years and even as I extend myself into a new career, I work from home. Most of my daily interactions are with family, neighbors, and close friends. Don’t I already love them well? Not that I can’t improve, but my sense is that I need to be loving more openly, more expansively. That I need to take the blinders off and start seeing people more. As an introvert, this terrifies me sometimes. To feel this call to love and yet to think that this means branching out when so much in me finds comfort in nestling inward: this is a daunting challenge. But I have to believe that if I am truly called to love, then I will be truly equipped to do it. I have to believe that there are treasures to be found on the other side of fear; treasures that are worth mustering the courage to be uncomfortable.
I’m beginning to realize that the world—my world—is quite full of people to love. There’s the woman at the UPS store who has helped me on several occasions. She probably doesn’t recognize me since I only come in a few times a year, but that might change if I introduce myself and tell her how much I appreciate her help. There’s the mother behind me in line at Costco whose toddler is giving her a run for her money. There’s the driver in the lane next to me who failed to yield and is now in a pickle trying to get into the left turn lane—haven’t I been there too? There’s my next door neighbor who likes chocolate chip cookies—how hard would it be to share some of the four dozen I just made in my own kitchen? We all live so close together and yet lead such separate lives. There are half a dozen houses within a stone’s throw of my own, but we’re not really neighbors until we start loving one another and sharing lives.
I want to learn to love others more boldly, openly, and abundantly. I want my kids to grow up around someone who loves that way. I guess that means I better step up and be that person. I think of this every time I encourage my kids to talk to the new kid at school, stick up for those who are picked on, or choose to partner with the child no one ever picks. Do they see me extending myself in the same ways? Do they see me loving? Going out of my way to love?
I can’t say exactly why it feels different today, but it does. We tend to find what we’re looking for, sooner or later, don’t we? Today I am looking for people to love. I can’t wait to find out what will happen next.