Tag Archives: Relationships

What is it with people?

I moved apartments at the end of July and I now live an easy bike ride away from school. I often ride in the company of a friend who lives in the neighbourhood. As we rode in this morning, my friend asked, “What is it with people? Do they actually not care or do they really not look?”

It’s a good question, one that I ask of myself and of others with some regularity. Let’s explore further.

“What is it with people? Do they actually not care?”

Care is a verb. As I have written similarly about love and about giving, it is very important to understand this. Caring means acting in a way that is responsive to those around us. I actually disagree with the standard dictionary definition here, which suggests that caring is a feeling or an action.

A feeling is not enough. To care is a verb and verbs are actions.

We cannot claim to care if we then proceed to do nothing, though unfortunately I think this is often the case. I suspect that for many people, feeling is enough. A moment of pause in their own lives while they look in the general direction of someone else and then right back to normal. After all, how often do we hear, “I do care but I just can’t do anything about it”?

I think this is wrong.

Again, caring is an action. True caring requires something from us, some sort of participation that goes beyond personal acknowledgement of a situation. We don’t need to donate a kidney to the next person who walks by in pain, but if we claim to care about people, it’s not too much trouble to look them in the eye and genuinely ask, “How are you?”.

Interestingly, however, there is a lot of literature about “self-care” out there and we’re pretty clear what we mean in regards to ourselves. We do what makes us feel good because we want to do it. It only makes sense to apply the same to others, but we don’t stop to think about what others might need. We are too wrapped up in our own minds for that.

Do some people actually not care? Yes, I think that is the case. Care is one of those words we have thrown around and we have neglected what it actually means. We talk about it but we don’t act on it. This is a problem.

“What is it with people? Do they really not look?”

I know a lot of people who use “being busy” as an excuse for their myopia. The problem is that this excuse becomes our way out of interacting with anyone or anything not directly related to our personal wants and needs. We avoid looking because looking would mean that we have to do something. And if we turn away, who are we? We aren’t willing to go here.

Not looking is an active choice to disengage. This choice is indicative of indifference to those around us, and both history and life experience teach that indifference is at least as harmful as outright harm. Sometimes, people really don’t look. Sometimes, people really cannot be bothered. This is a problem.

Likewise, it is common to assume other people will look, perhaps people who better understand a situation or who have been around longer. The argument might go, “Perhaps I’m not the right person to get involved.” Well, why not? Who is? It is also easy to deny responsibility with excuses like, “It’s just not my place to intervene.” Well, what is your place? How would you like to be treated in this situation if roles were reversed? You are now culpable.

We could go down a rabbit hole of hypotheticals here and if we do that, the principle must remain. For instance, if you see a child drowning, do you jump in? Psychology would say that you’re more likely to act if you’re alone than in a crowd of people, but I think this one is pretty easy. Yes, you see the child and you jump in. Are other situations so different?

How do we fix this?

I admit that this post is largely negative and I’m sorry about that. My friend’s question on our ride to work really got to me because I really do try to make the world a better place. I really try to do the right thing and to be involved even when I’d rather not be. This is true in a variety of situations, from answering the phone call or message that will likely lead to a very late night to approaching an administrator when I have concerns about a colleague.

Doing the right thing matters.

How do we make the world a better place when people refuse to acknowledge that there’s anything amiss at all?

Here is what I can suggest:

  1. Decide what matters to you and live according to those principles. Become the person you uphold in your mind as a good person.
  2. Understand that everything you do is a choice and make choices based on your principles.
  3. Hold yourself and others accountable to what has been said and done. Ensure that what is done aligns with what is said.
  4. Treat people well. Think long and hard about what that means and act accordingly.
  5. Do the hard work to do the right thing because these are the things that matter.

For a long time, I’ve collected quotes that I’ve come across in any number of places. I don’t remember where I first read the motto of Jainism, but I think it fits well here. Allow me to close with that.

Parasparopagraho Jivanam – The function of souls is to help one another

Living Gently

A long time ago I encountered the idiom, “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.” I didn’t understand it then but have since lived within its meaning. Yesterday, I referenced glass houses while ranting to a friend about people who fail to treat others with dignity and respect. One breath later, I realised that this idiom goes much deeper than that.


We are all fragile beings and encase ourselves in fragile lives. At any moment, we can lose or gain someone or something very meaningful. We don’t know whether we’ll make it home from this errand or that day of work and we don’t know what we’ll discover on the way. We don’t know what a doctor will find during a routine procedure. We don’t know, upon hanging up the phone or clicking send, whether we’ll indeed speak again soon. And furthermore, we don’t know how others’ lives entangle with ours and how that many affect us.

In short, we are fragile and so are our lives. Losing sight of this can lead us to interminably waiting for the right opportunity or the right time. There often is no “right”. Instead, there are opportunities and there are times. Take them when they come because life, because living, is fragile.

With this understanding, it is easy to appreciate how quickly a stone can shatter who we are and how we live.

Treat others gently because they, like you, are fragile. Treat others gently because they, like you, deserve dignity and respect. Treat others gently because they, like you, are only human.


As we walk in the world, it is important to remember that it is not enough to avoid throwing stones. We all live in glass houses. Life throws enough stones and our energy is better spent lifting each other up rather than tearing each other down. Instead, let us acknowledge the fragility of who we are and behave in ways that demonstrate that we accept the same about others.

Demons Lurking: A Story

So yeah, that’s what’s new, he says before taking a sip of his coffee.

Sounds okay, she replies. Her smile is easy and playful.

He nods.

There’s a lull in the conversation earlier than expected. Both take a moment to stare into their cups. As suddenly as it came, the spell is broken and they talk like old friends; some laughter, some teasing, an admirable effort to make the present feel like the past.

But then they land where they always do – at the end. Experienced here, they stop themselves before they really get started. They’ve been down this road before.

Simpler matters occupy them and she thinks for a moment that the sharp distance might grow softer. But only for a moment.

The jangle of bells at the door announces a new customer who looks around and spots them with a wave. She places her hand on his shoulder as she reaches the table. He smiles broadly, introduces the two women, moves his chair so the newcomer can take a seat. The second woman’s greeting cracks the quiet of the space and the first woman returns it politely but with an emotionless smile, eyebrows raised at the man in an unspoken question.

The first woman waits. Time stops. Distance reshapes itself as a valley between mountains.

The second woman’s smile widens, an almost giddy grin. She opens her mouth to speak and changes her mind.

The pause is too long.

The first woman takes one last sip of her already empty coffee. She checks her smile and finds some warmth. Great to see you. And she means it. Nice to meet you. Take care.

And you.

The pleasantries are exchanged automatically, the next steps determined without notice.

When she leaves, it is with the barest hint of hesitation. Bells jangling agin, I follow at a distance. She’s distracted and doesn’t notice. She walks quickly and I stay carefully behind.

She travels several unseeing blocks before pausing to get her bearings. She’s been here before. So have I.

She checks her watch. After some hesitation and with controlled deep breaths, she begins walking again, this time with purpose instead of flight.

A few more blocks and she enters a small bar. I’m not surprised when she takes her usual seat at the high top counter stretched across the window. When a server comes over, she inquires about happy hour, selects a glass of wine, and hands back the menu with a smile that reaches to her eyes.

We’ve been here before.

I sit not far behind and watch her pull a notebook and pen from her bag. But rather than begin writing, she leans back in her chair and stares out the window. Shapes and colors pass. I sip my drink and wait.

The arrival of her wine awakens her from her reverie and her body relaxes. The wine does what wine does and soon she’s writing, writing, writing. I’m sure she doesn’t notice that the glass is empty, but then there’s a second grateful smile to the server who comes to offer her another. She checks her watch.

Her writing slows with the second glass and I watch her stare out at the world in between flurries of pen on paper. I’m nursing my beer. The notebook and pen are put away before the last sip of wine is drained.

For a long time she looks out the window and I don’t know what she sees. Her body is quiet; feet usually restless remain still and hands sit folded on the counter. Occasionally I watch her shoulders move in a sigh. I settle into my seat. We’ll be here awhile.

When she pays the bill, smiling once again at the server, I take this as my cue and follow her out the door. She crosses the street before I’m ready. I wait for one more light and by the time it changes, I’ve lost her.

No matter.

We’ve met before. I’m sure we’ll meet again.