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If You Want to Change the World, Embrace Magic


Originally published on medium.com

The other day I watched two cars pull up in front of Starbucks. In one car, a woman in business attire jumped out. In the other car, a guy in a tailored suit emerged.

Both of them appeared to be in a hurry. The woman looked at her watch and the guy was talking on his cell phone. They walked hurriedly towards the front door of Starbucks.

The woman was faster and reached the front door sooner than the guy. She opened the door, and then did something unexpected.

She held the door open, and waited.

The guy slipped his phone in his pocket, looked up at her and said, “Oh hey, thanks very much!”
We’ve all been there, right? Short on time, hoping to beat the other person into the coffee shop, restaurant or business.

It feels like a small victory when we get there first. It means we’ll get served sooner and save a little time.

The question is, which feels better? Beating someone to the door, thus saving a bit of time, or holding the door and letting someone go ahead?

The lost art of courtesy

The website Multichannelmagic.com had this to say about courtesy:

“Did courtesy disappear with the twentieth century? It may not be gone, but it is certainly not as common as before. Courtesy is polite and considerate behavior or actions. Our world moves at a fast pace with many distractions. Responding to people with gratitude, empathy, and consideration for them takes time and effort. It’s simply easier to zip through life without slowing down to say, ‘please’, ‘thank you’, ‘how are you?’, and ‘what may I do to help?”

My father was an administrative law judge. For many years he got up at the crack of dawn to commute to 
the city for work.

His commute involved driving to the train station, boarding the train to the city, and then taking a bus to his office. After a long day at work, he did the reverse commute home.

Dad typically left for work at 5:30 am and arrived home around 6 pm. In short, it was a long day. The last thing he’d want to deal with, one would think, would be a delay.

One night, as he left the train station and started driving home, he saw a family stranded on the freeway. 

Their car had broken down.

This was before cell phones, and Dad pulled over to help. I remember my mother getting worried, because it was after 7:30 pm and Dad hadn’t come home yet.

Then we heard the door open, and Dad walked in with this rescued family. He looked at my mother and said, “Honey, these folks had car trouble and need some help.”

The family lived on the east side of town and didn’t have much money. My father invited them to join us for dinner. Afterward, he spent the rest of the evening helping them get a tow truck, and driving them home.
I think he finally got home around midnight, only to go to bed and get up early the next morning, for work.
Who does that anymore? Who puts their life on hold to help strangers in need?

Yes, I know. We don’t want to get involved. People can’t be trusted. Best to drive by. Someone else will help. We tell ourselves such things.

The problem is, there’s no magic in that. There’s no investment in making the world a bit more civil. A tad more humane. A touch more magical.

Altruism is good for your health

Every time I do something nice for another person, it makes me feel good. Particularly when it’s for someone I don’t know.

Stuff like holding the door for another person or waving them out ahead of me in traffic.

An article in Time.com noted the following:

“There is a Chinese saying that goes: ‘If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.’ For centuries, the greatest thinkers have suggested the same thing: Happiness is found in helping others.”

We live in a competitive society and eveyone wants to win. People like to be right. They like to be first. I see rude and ugly behavior every day that supports this observation.

But then, thank God, I see glimmers of hope. Like the lady I saw today, waving at traffic to slow down, because a homeless woman was having difficulty crossing the street.

The Time.com article added the following:

“Experiments show evidence that altruism is hardwired in the brain — and it’s pleasurable. Helping others may just be the secret to living a life that is not only happier but also healthier, wealthier, more productive, and meaningful.”

Free yourself from busy nothings

So much of life is filled up with mindless routines and quotidian rythyms. As Jane Austen noted:

“Life seems but a quick succession of busy nothings.”

It’s easy for us to get wrapped up in our desires and goals. There’s nothing wrong with being ambitious and striving to get ahead.

But, while we’re on this never ending journey towards success and happiness, we ought to slow down once in awhile.

Take note of the world around us, and all the other souls who are striving for a better life.

Random acts of kindness may brighten the lives of others, but the beautiful part is that they brighten your life, too.

“There is no charm equal to tenderness of heart.” — Jane Austen

When we help others, we help ourselves. The result is a better you, and a better world.

It’s a kind of magic that’s worth embracing.

Αbout the author
I’m John P. Weiss. I draw cartoons, paint landscapes and write about life. Join my free email list here for the latest artwork and musings.

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