Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Kindness New York Style

It is pure happenstance that I find myself in New York City on this infamous date. Apart from the collapse of the World Trade Center, it is also the day that my mother’s dearest sister and stand-in exhaled her last breath on this big island.

If New Yorkers have a bad rap for being rude or pushy, let me dispel this illusion poste haste. Our supposedly laid-back lady from Southern California found herself pushing into elevators ahead of polite New Yorkers, impatiently weaving and dodging her body as fast as her feet could carry her, cutting through hoards of people on Fifth Avenue like a car on a Los Angeles freeway trying to angle for the fastest lane to nowhere, and being reminded by one very brave waiter and one tired cab driver that “...this is New York, it’ll get done."

People on the streets and in the shops seem downright relaxed...not as in lounging by a poolside relaxed, but born of a conservation of energy whereby their focus is intent but not overwrought.

Perhaps there is a reason for this seeming reversal of cultural behaviors. According to social scientists, the higher one climbs on the ladder of affluence, the more likely a person is to isolate, put one’s interests ahead of others, and exhibit the usual run-of-the-mill narcissism of the privileged. While I am not in the 1% by any stretch of the imagination, I am used to living on top of a foothill, on a spot with only one silent neighbor on a slightly higher foothill above me. Furthermore, the location of the town was “planned” so that there are parking spaces everywhere and special bike lanes for the fit and free. Negotiating for a little piece of turf is not an issue.

New York City, on the other hand, is a veritable beehive.

Home life takes place on a vertical plane and the sweet little parks one finds interspersed amongst the traffic and the cement sidewalks have just enough vegetation to make one weep for a forest. 

But with the huge mass of humanity packed into one long skinny island, there is a plus. People have to interact. People have to see other people constantly, incessantly, to do anything or go anywhere. Instead of fighting it, New Yorkers seem to flow with the energy of this teaming mass of humans, cars, trucks and vertical stacks of compartments called apartments.

The deficit of compassion from those who can afford to isolate comes at a cost; a loss of empathy for fellow humans beings. So while we all enjoy quiet, space, and abundance of all kinds, let us remember that we are part of a whole, a throbbing mass of humanity that must respect the "other" to preserve sanity and fan the flames of tolerance, compassion and respect.

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