This week while I sit on the train to work I’ve been watching people. Watching the strangers around me on their devices playing games and watching movies or catch up TV. Hardly anyone just sits there anymore; thinking, reading or resting.
It reminded me of Stephen Coveys important vs urgent matrix, where he encourages the majority of our focus on important activities, not urgent ones.
There’s a definite difference between healthy relaxation and time wasting. I wondered how many of the people playing candy crush clones or catching up on The Voice considered either activity healthy relaxation.
Then I realised I was starting to judge, I felt bad. The Voice might be akin to torture for me, though for many it could actually be healthy relaxation (yep, really). In the end I was reminded of another Stephen Covey memory, a situation where he judged others on a train. Here it is in his own words:
“I remember a mini-paradigm shift I experienced one Sunday morning on a subway in New York. People were sitting quietly – some reading newspapers, some lost in thought, some resting with their eyes closed. It was a calm, peaceful scene.
Then suddenly, a man and his children entered the subway car. The children were so loud and rambunctious that instantly the whole climate changed.
The man sat down next to me and closed his eyes, apparently oblivious to the situation. The children were yelling back and forth, throwing things, even grabbing people’s papers. It was very disturbing. And yet, the man sitting next to me did nothing.
It was difficult not to feel irritated. I could not believe that he could be so insensitive as to let his children run wild like that and do nothing about it, taking no responsibility at all. It was easy to see that everyone else on the subway felt irritated too. So finally, with what I felt like was unusual patience and restraint, I turned to him and said, “Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little more?”
The man lifted his gaze as if to come to a consciousness of the situation for the first time and said softly, “Oh, you’re right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what to think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.”
Can you imagine what I felt at that moment? My paradigm shifted. Suddenly I saw things differently, and because I saw differently, I thought differently, I felt differently, I behaved differently. My irritation vanished. I didn’t have to worry about controlling my attitude or my behavior; my heart was filled with the mans pain. Feelings of sympathy and compassion flowed freely. “Your wife just died? Oh I’m so sorry! Can you tell me about it? What can I do to help?” Everything changed in an instant.’
You never really know the reasons strangers do what they do. That driver who cut you up on the road may have been racing to the hospital, that person pushing you to get off the train may not have actually seen you. I’m trying to see the good in everyone more. A persons actions do not necessarily define them. I can safely say I know and like people who watch The Voice, it doesn’t mean they like crap TV, it means they like The Voice (and of course torture..).
I love the important vs urgent matrix. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s worth getting familiar.
Be a light, not a judge. Be a model, not a critic – Stephen Covey