I recently took a trip to the East Coast, and what I witnessed in the airports along the way was somewhat disheartening.
If you’ve read any of the Story of How This Began on our web site, you know that I started this campaign as a result of an experience I had in an airport. I observed a Soldier in uniform, and the civilians staring at him but not saying anything to him. I decided that civilians needed a “salute” of their own that would make it easier, and therefore more commonplace, for them to express their gratitude toward those who serve to defend our freedom. It seemed somewhat unfair to ask a man or woman to serve, requiring them to wear a uniform in public places, and then stare at them in that uniform, but not tell them what’s on our minds – not share with them how much we appreciate their service. Thus making them question what’s behind those stares, making them feel separate from the rest of us dressed in our civilian clothes, living our civilian lives.
On this trip, some eight years later, I noticed something even more disconcerting: Not only were people not connecting with those who serve, they were not connecting with anyone at all. As I sat in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport waiting for my flight home, I watched as hoards of people shuffled from gate to gate, hustling and bustling amongst their fellow passengers – their fellow human beings – but not seeing them as anything more than an obstacle – an inconvenience keeping them from making it to their next gate as quickly and easily as they’d like to. There was little eye contact, few “excuse me’s”, and “please” and “thank you’s” were rare – even between people who were talking to each other. Or perhaps I should say, talking at each other.
I’d like to encourage you to observe how often you behave like this in public. How often do you feel disconnected from your fellow man? As though everyone around you is just an obstacle that you must work around to get what you want, or get to where you want to be. It is this culture of isolation and disconnection that leads to the miscommunication and distrust in our relationships, both locally and globally, that then leads to conflict. Next time you’re feeling that way, take a deep breath. Pause for just a moment, and observe the people around you. Consider what their life might be like – what they might have on their minds. Consider how much like your life theirs might be. Consider how much you might have in common with these people. And treat them like you would like to be treated in that moment. Acknowledge them. Respect them. Look them in the eye, and notice what you see. You just might be surprised to find that you see… yourself.