On the way back from appointments and errands today I found myself facing a familiar dilemma. It is a little embarrassing to share, but it feels like it could benefit at least a few of us, so here goes.
There is a homeless veteran who asks for money at the same stoplight in a well-to-do business area of my hometown Austin, Texas, each Wednesday I drive by. He is not so clean but is always smiling. I hesitate to connect, wonder what he will do with the money I give him, feel guilty that I have a home and he does not, wonder what the best way really is to help him, ponder how it is with all the wealth in our country we do not have homes for everyone, judge him for being homeless, judge myself for judging him. It is complex. All this ruminating happens in the blink of an eye.
Homelessness and the growing income divide have become more prevalent in Austin as our population density increases and housing prices skyrocket. It is a fractal of what is going on all over the world. Earlier this year in Silicon Valley a well-to-do hipster posted an open letter to the mayor of San Francisco complaining that he was embarrassed to drive in his town because of all the homeless “riff raff”. The letter was pretty appalling, has set me on edge, and highlights our need to address this issue. While I don’t claim to have answers, my passion in life is connection. For myself, if no one else, I knew I needed to do something, to step out of my privileged bubble, to become a small part of a solution instead of being a complacent part of the growing divide.
I’ve found a helpful strategy for getting through the day and the myriad of uncomfortable situations I face as an introvert who loves people.
I imagine my actions are science experiments.
Instead of feeling like the weight of the world rests on whether something is done correctly, or not at which point my life might be ruined, I release some pressure by experimenting. When I’m experimenting its okay to make mistakes, and I realize that even my mistakes are giving me helpful information. Yes, some experiments I take more seriously than others, and what I’ve found over time is even when I make big mistakes when I go at it with the approach of experimenting, somehow it feels better than having to make the perfect decision all the time.
Earlier in the morning I heard change clanging around in the bottom of my bag against pens, a barrette and a tube of lipstick. It is kind of fun to hear the change in there, since I seldom leave it in my bag. We have a drawer where we keep coins, saving for vacation, and back in the days of LA, for metered parking which we rarely need here in Austin. Because I don’t hear change often, it stuck with me.
Back to the experiment we go.
When I saw the man today I remembered the change and reached for my bag. I guess I began to smile thinking I might be able to help him even just a little, and maybe out of nervousness to have to speak with someone whose life seems so different than the sheltered one I live.
This experiment was a tiny one, the risk was very low. I moved forward. As I pulled the change from the bottom of the bag, trying mightily to leave the plastic bits dropped in from a school event last week, we made eye contact. He moved cautiously toward the car, and seemed to be searching for an indication of what this interaction might hold. He was wearing a t-shirt under a flannel shirt and jeans, had dark, clear and kind eyes, his face beaming, open and sincere. I could feel my smile widen as he smiled and walked toward the car. As the window lowered, he said, “Thank you for your smile!” I felt he really saw me, and I saw him too. We connected. I gave him the change, still pulling plastic bits out and apologizing that it was taking me so long. He said again, “Really, thank you for your smile.” He meant it.
Though I knew interacting with him had brought me joy and a feeling of connection, at that moment I realized he must spend much of his day getting the opposite of smiles. People in a hurry, talking on their cell phones, ignoring his gaze, not wanting to feel guilt about passing a homeless person by without helping. I was humbled and honored to share that brief moment with him. It was magic. I said “Thank you for yours.” both of us still beaming as the light turned green and we were both on with our lives.
How Experiments Open Us
The science experiment framework opened me to the possibility of connection in a way I would not have been willing to try otherwise.
It was a small risk, and for many of you a no-brainer. For me, however, that interaction was a step outside my comfort zone, and we all have them. I could reach out for connection when I put it in a new perspective.
Really, if we wanted, we could look at life as one giant, series of messy experiments.
That brings me to us.
This project, Realizing Connection, has grown as a response to the discomfort and separation I see, read about and experience each day, doing things just like you. I want to see if we can create positive change through really connecting with ourselves and each other in fun and meaningful ways using experiments which blend our powerful resources of technology with real-time, three-dimensional connection.
Though I definitely have experience and ideas about making our connections more real, and less virtual, what has jogged me out of my quiet and predictable life is the exciting opportunity to be better together.
I’d love for you to be part of this experiment. Join me, and lots of others who want to be part of making this world a better, and more connected, place to be.