Another peeve comes up when I see someone get on the metro who obviously needs a seat. Maybe the person is on crutches, but the seats are all taken by young and able people absorbed in their iPhones, so the person that needs a seat is forced to stand until someone speaks up.
Despite the way it sounds so far, this isn't meant to be a moralistic rant. I have been absorbed in thought and failed to open a door for a guy with his arms full of boxes, so I'm not always better. But when we touch into our basic humanity, we are better.
Deep inside of us there is a tendency to be courteous and decent to one another. It is part of our basic goodness as humans. The trouble arises when we lose touch with our hearts and lose awareness of our surroundings.
In his book, Awake at Work, Michael Carroll talks about li, a term that may have been first used by ancient jewelers in China to refer to the natural contours of jade when cutting it. As Carroll points out, learning to do the right thing is about taking the path of least resistance. It is finding the natural contours in our interactions with people.
When someone smiles at you, for example, it feels natural to smile back. To give them the finger would seem totally incongruous at that point, even if you don't really like that person. Smiling in this situation is natural, assuming we are living in the moment and not in some storyline about how this person said something mean last week.
Michael Carroll says:
No rule book can teach us to extend such respect toward our fellow humans and our world. It is our li, our nature, to extend such simple and noble gestures. When we fail to acknowledge and cultivate this basic decency, rudeness, violence, and selfishness become routine and decency the exception to the rule rather than the everyday bond between people.
So next time you walk past someone on the street and s/he makes eye contact, stop for a moment and consider what response would feel right in your heart. Does it feel right to shift your gaze to the floor, or to do something else?