How many times have we timed our journey to perfection – be it to the shop, a concert, the school run or even a longer journey, only to come across someone we would like to (or feel we ought to) talk to, yet simply cannot afford the time? The world looks fine from our eyes, we are on your way to do something purposeful, full of intent, and just cannot stop. A quick wave, and on we go, happy with the world.

Let’s take a look at it from the other person’s perspective for a moment.

A while ago, when taking our daughters to school, I noticed another father looking a little down-beat, not his normal cheerful self. Here is a case in example, where it would have been all to easy to shuffle of to the office and carry on with my day. Something compelled me to stop, to slow down, and to walk with him. A quick inquiry into his well-being, and it all flooded out. 

Now, keep in mind that I had only ever experienced the Dad to Dad discussions at school – nothing deep or meaningful. It turned out, that he was having such a hard time, his job was challenging, he had been experiencing a hard time at home, nothing seemed right anywhere, yet nowhere did he have the chance to express this and pour it all out.  He needed someone to listen to him, to allow him to get it all off his chest without judgement (I could not judge – I had only had the broadest of social relationships with him in the past). Here I was, spending just a few minutes of my day, helping him to unload. We went our separate ways, and that was that.

The next day, he thanked me for being there to listen, apologising he had to let it all flood out.  To me, I felt honoured that he felt he could let it all go, and the last thing I felt was burdened.  It then made me realise, that nobody knows what anyone else feels.  Nobody else has walked your journey – neither that day, nor since you were born.

Everyone’s  day has been very different to ours – even our spouses or partners.  They may have had the weight of the world on their shoulders and are in need of a brief chat with a friendly face to off load. All they want is an empathetic listener, someone to share a few minutes with, and everything will seem easier. Having seen you walking along the street in an upbeat manner, they pluck up enough courage to speak and pour their heart out to you, and that is what happened to me.

But what if it was different ? After taking all that courage, energy and bravery, all they get is a little wave, someone dashing past, and the illusion that the upbeat person doesn’t want to be dragged down by their problems.

How would that have been for my new best friend – dismissal, lack of interest, no time to spare.  That looks like even greater compounding of his problems – and now, it is at the school gate as well!

So here is a way to allow us to let people feel special :

  • Allow extra time for your journey -  Rather than timing all of our journey times to perfection plan to be able to fit in some time for others – just in case they needed it;
  • Look people in the eye -  There is no need to be afraid, nobody has a death stare, and you may just pick up on an emotion;
  • Be prepared, and willing to listen - Generally, we may not tend to come across such circumstances, in which case, we have an extra few moments to ourselves. On the occasion that someone does want to chat or pour their heart out, we then have the time for them, showing great compassion;
  • Two Ears One Mouth - Use them in that ratio.  All that is needed are understanding motions, nods and gutturals.  Give them the space to talk.
  • There is no such place as Eleveneriffe - When listening, don’t be tempted to bring in your story – that just takes the importance of their conversation away, and may result in some important things being said.  We all have friends I am sure, when if you said you have been to Teneriffe, they have been to Eleveneriffe!
  • Thank them - Always thank the people you have listened to.  They have given you a very special insight into their life.
  • Never Gossip - Even though they may not have said ‘keep this to yourself’ make sure you do.  Social Media  is for broadcasting to the world, not a one to one trusted conversation
  • Remember to smile next time you see them - A warm face and a warm heart, how we are transcends to those around us

The thing is, the people we meet in the street tend not to have a huge sign above their heads announcing their worries and woes, yet given the most precious of all commodities – time – they may feel able to open up, and your few minutes of sacrificed time, may just change their day or even their life.