A man wearing a white food service jacket behind the counter turned around, looked me in the eye, paused, and spoke to me. Stunned, I took an involuntary step backwards.
On this day, seemingly like so many others, I walked through the cafeteria line, passing by the salad bar with its brown-edged iceberg lettuce, bright green peas and oily dressings. I breezed past the dry overcooked burgers and stir fries with thinly disguised left-overs from the previous day’s dishes. I came to a stop in front of the sandwich bar.
As a busy corporate executive, a quick lunch at the company cafeteria was my routine for over 10 years. While I may have briefly taken notice of the usual display of overcooked carrots or chatted with my equally preoccupied work colleagues, what I did not see was the living breathing human beings around me. Though I trekked the same route every day, year after year, I never saw the cooks or other food service people. I never saw this man, this man with his white starched jacket. Not ever.
This particular day I had just taken a break from a coaching workshop I had sponsored for my staff and myself. We had focused deeply on the importance of seeing and treating every person we coached as a significant human being. With this on my mind, as I went to lunch this day, I was different. I did not walk mindlessly through the line, my mind on my next big project. Instead, I stopped, I paused, I saw the man in his white jacket behind the sandwich counter. I wondered about who he was. Really, who was he? As he turned around, looked me in the eye, and made a comment about a night class he was taking, I felt an emotional shock wave. This man had never spoken to me. In fact I had never seen him speak to anyone. I never really saw him, period!
Why? Why today? Why today after so many days, so many years?
As he turned, he was transformed from the anonymous man in the white jacket to a man with blue eyes and a face ignited with energy as he talked about the rich experience he was having taking a class and learning in an area he was passionate about. His long slim fingers gestured expressively as he talked about his dream of being a computer programmer.
How is it possible that the simple act of being present and seeing this man while literally looking at his back changed everything? How did he know that I was present, that my energy was focused on him, that I saw him, that I was genuinely curious about who he was and what mattered to him?
Stunned, I took an involuntary step backwards as I was shocked that the mere act of seeing someone could change everything. He felt my energy as I focused on him and responded by engaging with me for the very first time. Our moment of connection made this man fully alive to me and I wondered if he too felt more fully alive.
A CALL TO ACTION
Make the Invisible, Visible
- Take a moment to reflect on the many people you interact with in a day.
- Now consider how many of those people you actually see as a person.
- Consider the cost of being present? (In the example in my blog it was literally less than 5 minutes of my time).
- Reflect on the value to the other person as well as yourself, if you were to see someone in your life as a valuable human being.
- Commit to seeing someone in your life and acting in such a way that the person feels seen.
Acknowledge Your Strangers as Consequential
- Read the book “Consequential Strangers – Turning Everyday Encounters Into Life-Changing Moments”. Authors Melinda Blau and Karen L. Fingerman.
- Make your list of 100 people (as per the above book) who affect your life. (Take your time. Your list will expand as you go through your days as see people with new eyes.)
- Write a short tag line as to how that person effects your life. The book gives some great examples.
- Choose 10 people on your list and determine how, in the next 3 months, you will do something new or different that lets that person know how they matter.