*being a non-native English speaker, this article may have language mistakes. If you find obviously ones, that should be clarified, please, give me a comment. Many thanks.
This article is the first of 21 about my Empathy Cycling Tour in August 2019. I choose a subject for each day of my journey to share things I learned or gained insights that I find worthful to share.
Today I’d like to share some thoughts about my awareness, awareness within society, and how to handle it. Let’s pay attention today to groups and people who are often unseen or on the margins of society
Let’s start with some questions that guided me on my tour.
- Why do we often make life harder for those who already have a difficult life?
- Why do we often treat those badly to whom we once affiliated ourselves with?
- Why do we pay more attention to oppressing others in order to protect ourselves than to develop ourselves instead?
Bread on two wheels
A month before I started my cycling tour, I’ve met Banjo Nick Rambles. You can find him busking in and around Cambridge. We had a delightfully interesting conversation, and so I asked to visit him when I’m on my tour. Eventually, we met at his “base.”
I prepared to be a kind guest and did what I felt was my cultural German duty: Baking a homemade bread!
I packed it and cycled to Cambridge with a lovely fresh loaf of bread in my rucksack, visiting someone who lives entirely different from the social norm. In return, I got a very special present a song for me: The Bread Song Blues
Now, I’d like to ask you three questions. Try to stop reading further for a moment and first to answer them honestly to yourself:
- Did you ever cross the street when you saw a homeless guy by the roadside?
- Did you sometimes try to look away when someone begged for money?
- How do you feel when someone, perhaps in dirty or damaged clothes, is busking on the streets?
I have to admit that I looked away in the past, hoping not to be involved in conversations. Even worse, not to be seen by others talking to someone in rags.
Ok, one reason could be that I’m introverted anyway, but that’s not the whole truth. I often tried to talk myself into feeling not guilty. Things like:
- He or she would use the money for drugs.
- Other people have more money than I do.
Did you ever have similar thoughts?
I think I’m lying to myself with such phrases. I only avoid unpleasant situations. The paradox of this is, how does the other person actually feel in that moment?
I also have to admit; I thought similar about some street musicians in the past.
But this time, I used the chance to get to know Banjo Nick Rambles and learned more than just a story about an unusual person.
Strategy of Avoidance
NO, I don’t have to and can’t give every homeless person money. Nor am I obliged throw cash wherever I see someone busking.
However, I can consciously decide to do so or not, without resentment or pejorative thinking about the person. Especially not if I didn’t even try to empathize with the person.
If I feel uncomfortable, behave judgemental, or try to avoid the confrontation. I should catch myself and ask: Why? Unfortunately, we are choosing avoidance as a strategy unconsciously.
However, if we’d try to stay conscious and mindful when we walk the streets, it’s more likely to handle potentially uncomfortable situations very well. We wouldn’t let our insecurity manipulate ourselves and treat people with dignity.
What do you feel?
This would mean that my behaviour, my feelings and opinions towards other people say a lot more about myself than about the other person. But we believe it’s the other way around.
“Your reactions, feelings and opinions towards other people say a lot more about you than about them.” – realizations on my journey
Doesn’t everyone have a desire to be heard? Don’t many people feel unheard and excluded even though they seem to be integrated into society? For me, these are the quiet, no less important voices and the small, but no less bright lights of the world, which also deserve space here.
So let’s listen to these voices and ignite the lights to shine. Who knows what these souls can teach us?
With open eyes, ears and an open heart
My bike trip has given me many opportunities to meet people with open eyes and with an open mind. For the whole journey, I practised but also failed repeatedly.
However, I take what I have learned with me into everyday life and would like to inspire you to test your openness towards other people. Hardly anyone thinks about themselves in the same way as others think about them. Therefore, isn’t it worth taking a closer look?
A story of a street musician
One of the many stories Banjo Nick kindly shared with me was about a young man who regularly stood at a bus stop not far from him. He never entered one of the buses until he finally disappeared again.
Possibly he liked the music but didn’t dare to get closer.
Maybe to avoid publicly admitting to listening to music? Perhaps because it felt unpleasant for him to like a street musician? Or because he didn’t want to give money?
There could be other reasons
It doesn’t matter if that story is true or not and if our assumptions are correct. But I want to take my lesson with me, and you?
Although not always, but more and more often, I face moments of discomfort, because what often arises from it is surprising, on many occasions surprisingly positive.
How do you face unpleasant situations and recognize moments when you feel discomfort about other people? And are you always honest with yourself in such circumstances?
Summary of the bike ride on day 1
The following section is a short entry about the route travelled, about further conversations that were not explained in detail in the article and just as a bonus.
- Approx. 90 miles
- Sharnbrook – Cambridge – Assington
- One conversation
- camped near Sudbury
- Meeting for a few cups of coffee with Nick Rambles
- The “Bread Song Blues” jammed, accompanied by Rafael
- Handing over a homemade bread
Notes from conversations
Names I want to google:
- Michael Werner
- Geno Leckner
- Hank Snow