When we do something, positive or negative. Kind, indifferent, or cruel. Self-centered or altruistic. Other people notice. Other people react.
This is systems thinking in the social sphere. Social media is a social system. We have seen how they can be built, enjoyed, and exploited. Work, home, friends are also social systems.
I’m not going to go into any false spiritual spiral with this, I’m just going to note that there are systems in which we operate. Personal, political, economic. At home and at work. And how we act, how we present ourselves, how we interact with others – makes a hell of a difference.
In the 90s, before New York City became mysteriously friendlier, I woke up one morning in Tribeca. I went for a walk with my friend Brian. We went into a shop to get some coffee. Brian was animated and talkative, but when the person came to get his order the exchange went like this:
Person (aggressively staring at Brian): What d’you want?
Brian: (looking away, like the other person isn’t there): Coffee.
He gets Brian his coffee.
Brian: <no response, grabs coffee>
Person to me same thing: What d’you want?
Me: (Looking back at him, smiling) I’d also like a coffee, please.
Person stares at me a second, trying to figure out if I’m for real.
Goes to get coffee.
Comes back and hands it to me.
Me: Thank you.
Person walks away. Stares at me.
Brings me a muffin.
Person: … You have a nice day, okay?
Person: Really. <Person then smiles back>
My friend Brian was one of the nicest people on earth. But in the 90s New York system, he was expected to act a certain way. On my part, I didn’t do anything hokey or over-the-top, I was just not unpleasant.
Brian said, “I’ve never seen that guy be nice to anyone.” I was a role model, just by being human. It doesn’t take much.
When we get overworked, we get stressed. When we get stressed, we get unpleasant. When we’re unpleasant, we behave unpleasantly. We we do that, we spread it around.
So, I’m not saying “be nice all the time.” What I’m saying here is that if we build our systems to avoid overwork (likely one of the largest sources of stress we have), we are improving other systems we engage in because we will be better actors in those systems.
So recognize that you are a role model. You are an active part of many social systems.
Blogged on the Riverwalk in San Antonio, Texas