I saw something hopeful the other day. While walking his dog, a man was picking up trash. He used one of those long pincer-like devices and a large plastic bag. The dog did not seem to mind.
This was not an organized event: The man was alone. It was not a block cleanup: There were no homes nearby. The man was doing something the city ought to have done and might have gotten around to doing. He was being unnecessarily, independently helpful.
His act of seemingly selfless generosity did not fit the spirit of the times. It is election time, the season of grievance. Ever mindful of what we want to hear, politicians pander to our discontent. They tell us we have a right to feel angry, abused, disrespected. Maybe we do. But discontent has its limits. Venting usually does more to increase anger than to dissipate it.
I have a solution or at least a suggestion: respectful, engaged listening. Make someone feel heard.
“No one cares what I think,” we frequently say and more frequently feel. But if I can counter that feeling in another person, I’ve helped not just him but me. When I listen very well, I can learn through the other person what I myself believe and perhaps even why.
It’s real work. When I’m not feeling listened to, which is most of the time, it’s hard to focus on the thoughts of another person. But the reward awaits. It’s a little like picking up garbage that is someone else’s job to collect — unnecessarily helpful. Good listening makes the world a little better and me a little less angry. As with most good deeds, it’s largely self-help. In the garbage-fest of an election season, I can use all the self-help I can give.
With a Perspective, I’m Jeremy Friedlander.
Jeremy Friedlander lives in San Francisco.