Wherever we are, wherever we go and wherever we have been – we leave an impression. Be it a school, a relationship, a workplace or home, a shopping centre, park, beach or other place, people make an impact, subtle or otherwise.
Generally, most people are focused on what they need to do, or believe they should do. Situations in life are managed through a sense of duty and responsibility. In so doing, their impact, though important, does not push boundaries, redefine or improve. Of course, all systems and societies need solidity, predictability, and stability. Duty and responsibility are the stuff of nation-maintaining. Doing what needs to be done, or is believed should be done, comes from a sense of compulsion, without being informed by vision. However, with a little attention, the unusual can become the norm. In this case, the unusual means a focus or attention on how to leave a ‘place’ better, rather than the same, for having been there.
A disposably-orientated society, hell bent on the immediacy of self-affirmation through a download or electronic connection, will not have the time to consider how we can leave a place better for having been there. Most of the time, we are hardly present in the situation we find ourselves in. Distractibility is the new focus. Seeing something, but not considering it, is the new knowledge. Digital memory the new authentic experience. Hurrying for the next affirmation the new self-esteem.
We should ask ourselves – educators, business people, parents and others – whether we are able to meaningfully make a place better for having been there. This requires more than the predictability of doing time. It requires attention to detail in each situational aspect we find ourselves in: a school classroom, a boardroom, a household, a food court, a traffic jam. It extends more subtly to each and every relationship we have, fleetingly at a shop, or sustained through family ties, work relationships and communities. It also extends to cyberspace where hasty comments can leave an imprint that spreads to, and affect, people anywhere.
To make a place better requires knowing the place well. Complete attention is a premise of ‘knowing’. Distractibility acts counter to reflection. To leave a positive impact requires an understanding of limitation and the courage to envision something wiser, cleaner, more alert, safer and happier. It may mean being brave enough to do something others would not do.
So, to leave a place or situation better than it was prior to our arrival, we need to be thoroughly present. It requires the capacity to see and also notice. To inquire and to sit in discomfort while asking whether everything is being done to make a situation or place better. It also means allowing wonder and curiosity… the ‘what if’ and ‘how would’ type of thinking that shapes positive change, and is restless for improvement.
In simple ways, children and students can be taught to leave a room tidy – be it a classroom or homespace. In deeper ways, they can be taught to be aware of their impact on others in public spaces. Responsibility in this way means knowing that each impacts on others and consequently an awareness of others is an overriding concern.
For adults, of course physical spaces such as homes and the workplace fridge are obvious and easy places where people can, and usually do, respect one another. However, less obvious is the way people separate from homes, relationships and workplaces. Conflict and pain, fuelled by anger, can characterise changes without anyone spending the time to ask, “What could be done better?”
A premise for leaving a place of conflict better for having been in dispute is a focus on feelings rather than blame. “I feel disappointed,” is far more likely to effect change than, “You are stupid.” A genuine apology is more palpable, though quieter, than a slammed door. It is a focus on longer-term connections rather than shorter-term proof of rightness.
Leaving a place better does not mean living in the pseudo-grandeur of self-righteousness and judgment. Telling others what to do is never likely to effect lasting change. Rather, to leave a situation or place better means an inner resolve is made to behave in ways that improve all situations and places, as far as possible. This resolve then translates to actions.
A focus on ‘better’ inevitably means subsuming the short-term for a better long-term. Alas, in the case of executive bonuses, political periods, a twenty-four hour news cycle (conflated to 8-hours), metrics and KPIs, views and ‘likes’, there is an overwhelming pressure on immediacy or sooner. Thus, decisions are made without an understanding of the broader scope.
Wisdom is premised on insight; a capacity to see more deeply. Within the realm of all of us is the freedom to be wise – to better ourselves. If only we grant ourselves time and the strength to be vulnerable.