I’m reading Studs Terkel’s famous oral history book called “Working.” It’s a collection of over 100 interviews with people of different professions. As the front cover says, “People talk about what they do all day and how they feel about what they do.” Everyone from a gravedigger, to a studio head, to a policeman, to a prostitute, to a piano tuner.
It was published in 1972 and one of the most fascinating parts of the read is the way that jobs have changed in the last 40 years. Certain professions don’t even exist anymore, and many others are now a far, far cry from what these people describe. But equally fascinating are the ways in which things haven’t changed. The human element remains. People are people and humanity endures.
Tonight while reading a section about a telephone solicitor in Chicago, I got the idea for this blog. The woman’s job required her to cold-call people all day long on behalf of a big newspaper, soliciting people for subscriptions. It was a high pressure job and she would be told to lie to potential customers if needed. She would tell them for instance that their money would support a charity for the blind, anything to fill her quota of subscriptions and keep her job.
When describing her guilt at taking money from people in the poorer sections of town, she said:
“A lot of them were so happy that someone actually called. They could talk all day long to me. They told me all their problems and I’d listen. … They were so elated to hear someone nice, someone just to listen a few minutes to something that had happened to them. Somehow to show concern about them.”
I’ve been pretty lonely away from the stage this year for various personal reasons and lately I find myself in an endless loop of: check Twitter, check Facebook, check my email, check Instagram, check Twitter, check Facebook, send a text, check my email, text again, check Instagram, post a pic, status update, and on and on and on…
And why? In a nutshell it’s because I’m craving connection. To use the same words from the quote above, I want “someone just to listen for a few [seconds] to something that had happened to [me].”
Don’t we all? We use social media and other modern connection tools for so many different reasons, but I have to believe that this idea is at the core of why we do it.
The lesson I need to take from this? Lend people your ear. Listen to them. Hold a little space for them whenever you can, give them a few seconds or a few minutes whenever you can spare it. We are all connected and these connections lie far, far deeper than Facebook or a text or an email. Although it’s not a bad start if we can use those things in the right way.
And this goes for everyone. Strangers, friends, hell even your enemies. The danger of social media is that we can insulate ourselves in a bubble with only the people we agree with. But it’s the “us against them” mentality that’ll be our undoing. People are hurting. People are scared and lonely and confused and misinformed and everyone gets trapped by their own ego. Everyone. Even you.
Show yourself compassion and show it to somebody else today.