Needful Things

Some argue that it is money, power or fame motivating our relationships and careers. But when we have that sit-down with ourselves after several significant emotional life experiences, we know those aren’t the reasons.

I suspect it’s loneliness that drives all of us in our pursuits.

We have to admit, honestly and vulnerably, that above anything else, we want to be with and around people who care. We need, at least, a few relationships with people who are honest, intelligent and in some ways compassionate. Creative is a plus. We also want to be with people who have a sense of social justice and who value fairness for everyone. Without thinking much, we want our associates to be informed, liberal, feminist, affirming and culturally open to all genders, nationalities, races, creeds, religions and political persuasions.

Yet we rarely encounter such lofty credentialing. It’s a seemingly impossible list of criteria for professional colleagues, personal friends and perhaps, sigh, even for the never-ending quest for Ms. or Mr. Right.

It only takes reading a handful of self-help books before we stop the madness and realize it’s not about our grocery list of expectations for someone else. It’s only about the expectations we have for ourselves that matter. Who we already are causes us to gravitate toward like-minded kindred folks. If we want to meet and associate with those whom we would consider to be “kindred spirits,” we must be those kind of people ourselves first, always and now.

So how can we be someone else’s’ “kindred spirit?”

The first paragraph above makes an attempt. For the sake of others, we need to be honest, intelligent, compassionate, creative and love what is socially just. The good news is that four of those five traits are within our power to obtain. Creativity is a gift that only comes from above.

Fortunately, in time, we change. We aren’t like we used to be. We gradually mature and get our shit together. Just like “getting an education” isn’t about the diplomas and degrees piling up on our resumes. It’s more about learning to cultivate a lifetime of continuing education. It isn’t the quantity of memorized facts or achieved certifications or projects that give our lives value. It is our mindfulness and wisdom, in our ongoing growth, that propels us to creatively work through life’s problems. It’s the journey, not the destination.

But if we agree on the universality of human existential loneliness, what should we practically be doing with ourselves in our day-too-day lives? How might we be more honest, intelligent, compassionate and be seeking more fairness for everyone?

We could become Buddhist monks. We may have always fantasized that someday we’d be on staff of an outfit like the 70’s enterprise of MS Magazine or today working for the publication Everyday Feminism. We might build homes for Habitat for Humanity or write for The New York Times.

But striving to do something exceptional for a career doesn’t transport us to the “kindred spirit” category. Neither is it about achieving an admirable list of personality traits. To throw ourselves into racking up those personal and career achievements is simply trying to be good enough. To live trying to be good enough always leaves us putting our self-concept in someone else’s hands.

The pathway forward is more simple and direct than any resume-building striving in how to win friends and influence others. It isn’t an accumulation of “likes” on Facebook or “claps” on Medium.

Simply and directly, it starts and ends, every day, with how we respond to the needs we see in others. Today, you will meet a person who has a need. It could be your neighbor in the apartment building who is washing their clothing. It may be the job interviewer from whom you are seeking a career change. It might be a passing stranger on the street or the clergy person at the church you’re attending. What is it that this person needs? (Did you know that clergy live lives where everyone tells them their problems but it rarely the other way around?)

Once you’ve become aware of a need, what is the honest, intelligent, compassionate, and just thing you could do in response? Is there a creative way for you to help in meeting that need with your own time and resources?

Maybe saying hello to the total stranger on the street would remind them that they may not be as lonely as they thought? Have you made the small your part of the world more friendly?

Suppose you are in the checkout line in the supermarket and you see someone, behind you, whom you perceive to be a person with some struggle in their life. (Just keeping your eyes and ears open enables you to make this assessment.) Why not hand the cashier some extra money for your purchase and quietly tell them to apply the change to the bill of the person behind you. If you walk out of the store quickly without looking back, it’s a cool experience. In some way, have you left someone better off today?

When someone you know begins to express some of their frustrations about their relationship or circumstances, listen. Listen to them as if you are their friend of 50 years. Compassionately take in the raft of frustration they desperately need to utter. Being present with others, even for a few minutes, makes life more livable. If we can be more fully present for even a few moments with others, we’ll find the creativity to be “kindred spirits” for a lot more folks than we had hoped. Have you been genuinely present in anyone’s life today?

What to do? You don’t have to be the Dali Lama, a congress person or a best-selling author on a world-wide book tour. In the moment, in every moment, just respond to the need that opens before you. The truly intelligent, compassionate, and just thing to do will just come to you. You can do it. You will make a difference. Your life and those whom you touch matters. These are the needful things and they’re right in front of you.

Exploring pathways which help feminism, social justice and personal fulfillment thrive. My contact links:

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