Yesterday a family member of mine was gracious enough to volunteer for the Salvation Army and stand between the two sets of automatic doors at the local LCBO. I could see her from my car as I pulled up, she was happily jingling sleigh bells and greeting patrons while wearing a bright red sweater and looking festive. Volunteering is second nature to her, it’s what she does. I made my way in with my 7lb Maltese-Poodle Jean Luc under my arm and I admit I was intrigued as I chatted with her and watched the activity of it all.
She was dutifully ringing the bells and smiling while I made my donation. Curious to see what this was all about, I stuck around for awhile. At first it seemed like I was doing the “right thing” by joining her in saying “Merry Christmas” and “Hello” to those passersby that either donated or didn’t. She noted that she was performing a Social Science Study while performing her voluntary duties. “It’s VERY interesting” she said. Observing who would look you straight in the eye and donate; those who wouldn’t look you in the eye but still donate; those who would avoid acknowledging your existence; those who would say things like “I don’t have any change!” or “I already donated!” while the feelings of guilt ridden anxiety undoubtedly flushed their faces with colour. The longer I stood there with the bells ringing, the easier it became to greet people (even those with no eye contact) with a boisterous “Hello!” In fact, I have to admit, I was having a GREAT time!
In the last year or so my own social anxieties have kept me from truly enjoying life and being fully present in some pretty monumental moments. I missed birthdays and baby showers because of it. But lately as I’m healing and becoming more emotionally fit, I realize that what I was missing was Connection. To expect someone to heal from social anxiety through social isolation is like putting someone on an island with only the “essential” resources. Sure you have food, water and shelter but your true humanistic and emotional needs will never be met (According to Maslow). By isolating myself because of my anxiety I was actually making things worse. As Dr. Gabor Maté states “we must provide an island of relief. We have to demonstrate that esteem, acceptance, love and humane interaction are realities in this world…” The word HUMANE in there seems extreme. But I kind of think it’s gotten to that point. In my observations, we don’t greet each other readily anymore. Even when walking into a store I am instantly weary of the overzealous store person shining a bright “Hello” in my eyes. My general dis-trust in people is proof.
Yesterday was different. Something shifted. I had a genuine feeling of excitement and happiness when someone new was coming into the store to be greeted by my “Hello!” and my family member’s smiling face. Perhaps it was the thrill of filling the Salvation Army Pot and the feeling that I had a hand in helping.
Okay, Jean Luc’s new hipster dog vest with little wee pockets may have had something to do with it. In fact he was an ice breaker that sometimes led to a different kind of donation. The donation of time and conversation. If only for a moment people would chat a few words. By having the dog there we learned that people can show love and affection in front of strangers. That something about the unconditional love that a dog brings helps to connect us back to our own desire for unconditional love. Even the most outwardly “scary” looking men with coveralls and burly beards and grease stained hands stopped to say hello and furrow JL’s scruffy brow. A lesson in appearances and the age old book-cover judgement played out in these exchanges.
Everyone likes to be greeted and treated nicely. It’s just that simple. People can feel sincerity. I think we can all feel and know in our hearts when someone means it. I suppose that is why I chose the quote “We teach what we most need to learn – and sometimes we give what we most need to get” to headline this post. I guess I hope that in teaching sincerity and authenticity I will embody it as well. And certainly what I realized yesterday was that in boasting sincere and happy greetings, I was giving what I in turn really need: Human Connection. Maybe we didn’t end up with thousands of dollars in the pot, but I think we may have helped re-connect to one and others human-ness. And that for me is where charity begins.