When I sprained my ankle back in 2008, I started feeling quite lonely even while standing in a crowd. It was because the teaming mass of people was buzzing by me, unaware of my struggle opening a difficult door while juggling my bag and my crutches (more on that here). There is one particular moment that is still fresh in my mind, as if it has only happened yesterday: I manage to get on a bus, hand over my fare to the driver, then turn to face some 20 passengers… all staring down at their phones. No one looked up or noticed me standing there with my crutches, pale and clearly exhausted; only when the driver (God bless him) called out to them did they look up. Startled out of their iBubble, they shifted to give me a spot to sit.
History Repeats Itself in a Different Context
We all have seen mothers walking their babies around in strollers; I myself started walking my little one as soon as I could, excited and eager to meet other mothers while strolling in a park, holding coffee mugs and chatting like the good friends we would undoubtedly soon become. But that image was shattered pretty early on when I realised that these mothers were all in their own little phone-bubble.
I don’t blame them, mind you—during walks, babies are remarkably content, and it’s a great opportunity to catch up on podcasts, emails, messages, and even work. But at the same time, there is a constant refrain of how lonely mothers feel, with an obvious answer: between that podcast and an in-person conversation, perhaps we should consider putting more energy into making the latter happen.
Might As Well Join The Crowd?
I found myself, after a few unsuccessful attempts at meeting other moms, paying more attention to my phone as well. Then I realised that I was being part of the problem—and missing out on some great times with my baby. So I forced myself to put my phone (and beloved podcasts) away and focus on my little one and where we were.
Fighting the Urge to iBubble
It took a while, but it seems that the mere act of not being behind my own phone (and maybe the cheerful smiles and waves of mother and daughter) resonated with a handful of mothers, as well as dog owners and park lovers. Within a month, I found myself, during one memorable walk, waving and saying hi to a couple of people I by then knew by name—realising that none of them were on their phones anymore.
The Power of Mindfulness and Contentment
I later discovered that they had seen how happy and content my baby and I were, either sitting on the grass, hanging out on a bench, or just standing together, watching all the things that were happening around us in the park—and that this contentment struck a chord in them. I have to admit that I didn’t realise how just mindfully enjoying myself would have such an impact on these strangers, but now, because of it, many of them are now my friends—go figure.
But then I remember facing a bus filled with people who, although probably kind and considerate enough to give someone using crutches their seat, were prioritising their phones over expressing this spiritual capacity of theirs. And I thought about the people who had had the most effect on me in my life, how they were always expressing some sort of mindfulness and contentment.
We can often catch ourselves thinking that we need to be special to make a change in the world—either have more power or more influence or more of something, anything, to be able to make things better. What I have discovered is that sometimes, just by working on your own self, you can inspire others to become better. I have been inspired to exercise by joggers I see running by me; I have been inspired to eat better by those choosing healthier options at the grocery store; I have been inspired to make the most of a bad day by someone who, in the middle of a storm, seemed happy and content.
We have much more power than any of us realise to make big changes in the world. It’s only a matter of grabbing the opportunity every day, at every turn.
How have you been inspired by a complete stranger’s (or a friend’s!) positive choices?