Thoughtfulness. According to dictionary.com, it is a noun used to describe the act of “showing consideration for others”. When I was a child, I remember being taught that thoughtfulness was of massive importance. I was taught to stand up to allow an elderly or pregnant person to sit down on a bus or a train and to stop on the side of the footpath, not in the middle. Closer to home, I was taught to change the toilet roll when it was empty and to offer a drink to others in the house if I was pouring one for myself.
I was taught that paying attention to the needs, wants and likes of others and making a small effort myself to fulfill them, was a nice thing to do. I don’t remember ever needing to ask my parents for a reason why I should be thoughtful. I liked it when people behaved thoughtfully towards me, so it seemed obvious that I would want to behave thoughtfully towards others.
As I have grown older (and hopefully wiser), I have found my attachment to thoughtfulness develop. I firmly believe that it is one of the essential pillars on which to build a society. When people stop to consider the impact of their actions on others and modify their behaviours according to less selfish principles, the world quite simply feels like a nicer place to be.
But sometimes it feels like the world has forgotten this simple art. It seems that the incidence of what I term “deliberate thoughtlessness” is on the rise. Here, I am not talking about accidentally getting in someone’s way. I am talking about people looking directly at me, making eye contact with me, and then deciding that their need to cross the road is more important than my need to retain momentum as I am cycling up the hill or that their need to read a sign is more urgent than mine and therefore they have every right to stand directly in front of me. In the end this is not just thoughtlessness, but downright selfishness.
And these incidents are just the tip of the iceberg. Acts of “accidental thoughtlessness” are even more common. In these days of i-pods, smartphones and tablet PCs, we live in a world where people are often moving amongst the general population with not the slightest awareness of what of what is going on around them. Isolated in our own little bubble, we often pay little attention to the fact that others are there, let alone the impact that our actions are having on them.
As a result, elderly people are often left standing on the train, people walk out in front of others… all simply because people don’t notice. It concerns me that we increasingly seem to pay less attention to the needs and wants of those around us, especially as we get more and more absorbed in new technologies. A world where people consider only themselves would not be a nice place to be.
But invariably, just as I begin to despair, a random act of kindness crops up and renews my subsiding faith. A man moving seats on the metro so my boyfriend and I can sit next to each other. A teenage girl offering to help me carry a heavy load. Small acts that make a big difference to my day.
So whilst I do find thoughtfulness to be sadly lacking in many circumstances, I don’t believe it’s yet dead… it’s sickly rather than dying. So what can we do to give it a new lease on life?
I believe thoughtfulness starts simply by taking the time to notice those around us and the impacts our actions have. Spending part of your journey to work unplugged from your i-pad or smartphone is an interesting exercise, and shows a lot about what we miss when we are immersed in our own little technology bubble. Wonderful, random acts of thoughtfulness may soon follow!
Why not try incorporating at least one thoughtful act into your day for a week and notice the positive impact it has on those around you? And, just as importantly, be sure you sincerely thank someone who has shown you thoughtfulness… they are far more likely to make the effort again in future if they have received gratitude for their actions.
What do you think? Is thoughtfulness a dying art? What can we do to keep it alive and kicking?