I spent a fair amount of time with my 9-year-old niece this past weekend (with about 15 kgs on my shoulders and over 25 kms of walking, but that is a story for another day) and I have been thinking a lot about one of our conversations. “What is your favourite thing about your mom?” I asked her. Your dad. Your brothers. Your friends. The people in your world?
I realised as I listened that what people mean to her is directly related to how they behave and treat others, including animals. Their kindness and respect, in essence, is what she referred back to every time. What people do or wear or possess never entered into the conversation – and there was plenty time (refer back to said 25 kms!).
It is not that she does not appreciate nice things. She is a little person who loves creativity and presents and clothes and toys, like any child, and she will comment if she likes a colourful scarf – but it bears no meaning. She asks me what I do, but it carries no weight. What matters to her is how one person treats another person specifically, and all human beings and living creatures generally. It was a refreshing reminder of what is important, out of the mouth of the proverbial babe.
Perhaps the world around us squeezes that out of us as we grow up where we start to believe the lie that other stuff matters more. How we dress. Where we live. What school we went to. What we possess. Where we studied. What we do, or have done. But in our honest moments, is it really that someone is an author that impresses us at a dinner party? Or a successful financier, or doctor or principal of a fancy school? I don’t think so. I think what leaves an impression on most of us is how we felt in that person’s presence.
An influential person in my life, Simon Petit, once said that you can tell the size of a person by how big or small you feel when you leave their presence. And I think that truth would go a long way towards healing relationships and building trust in our city and country – perhaps it really is as simple as ‘doing to others, as you would have them do to you.’