A Day of Mindful Human Interaction

This post is quite lengthy but it’s largely about being mindful of our human interactions. I have divided it into the following interactions I enjoyed over the course of 24 hours – it was one of these unplanned things where I just found myself being very mindful about this particular element of our live – feel free to dip in and out at your leisure and you might find it insightful, entertaining, or something else. There are some words of advice for the internet addicted among us (see #3 and the final section for these).

  1. the new clients and the café girl
  2. checkout thorn out
  3. the familiar face and coffee
  4. “free coffee?”
  5. the shared eye contact
  6. the big-issue guy
  7. the charity shop guy
  8. the barista and the customer
  9. the magical clients
  10. “chips please!”
  11. the JWs

Interaction #1 – the new clients and the café girl

Really it began the previous day, but some 24 hours previously, when I was called out to replace a power supply in a “computer” – this job had resulted from a peculiar phone call from London (I live in north-west Wales), where they were looking to outsource this job rather than send a technician out from London. I arrived at the premises, a shop, and introduced myself and then found myself replacing the power supply of a cash-register – something new to me, but it was essentially a computer under the cover and helpful instructions had been included with the part. Within a short time the system was back up and running and everyone was happy, plus I’d had some interactions with other human beings; not only with a few people that I spoke with but some non-verbal communication took place that I enjoyed also (more on this in a moment).

We can take these interactions for granted sometimes but my life has been somewhat routine and quiet lately – little work for which half the time I’m dealing with people I already know, and doing my shopping and banking at the same places – I cycle around which gets me out of the house and I chat to people online on pretty much a daily basis, but beyond this I could be classed as a recluse.

On the site of the cash-register repair job was also a small café, and due to a casual glance I sensed from someone working there while I was tackling the cash-register I was tempted to partake in a cup of coffee there once my work was finished – but I shied away from this and instead carried on with my original plans.

Interaction #2 – checkout thorn out

The supermarket was on my way and I needed some milk. For some reason I have noticed the bike-locking area to be somewhat breezy on a couple of occasions and this seems like a little bit of a bad omen and hindsight would perhaps confirm this, but more on that in a moment.

There was little interaction at this stage of my day to be honest, but it was a stage, so I’m including it anyway. I arrived at the checkout with my milk… oh and potatoes because they were reduced. The mood was again cheerful whilst I waited in line. The couple in front had just discovered that their shopping had fallen a few pounds short of the amount they needed to spend in order to redeem a coupon so a little wait was in order while they quickly grabbed something more… to buy… in order to qualify for the discount (I’m sure there is some logic in there, but mathematically speaking there probably wasn’t!) A supervisor noticed the hold-up and even though I had seen another member of staff loitering near the self-service section I had refused to venture there on my own… the supervisor now had other ideas and took me and my produce off there, and kindly scanned the things in form me and fed my cash into the machine. I’m anti self-service, preferring the human interaction, however slight, and opting to spend my money more directly on staff employment. The machine robotically thanked me for shopping there today *shudders*

Either my choice to shy away from the random option before or my choice to shop here when the wind had hinted the idea wasn’t a good one (I’m sure the last time I noticed the wind here lead me to another mishap on my way home from this area [link]), or my choice to avoid employing a machine had now come back to haunt me as I got back on my bike and began to pedal away; my tyre was flat. I pulled into a car parking space and flipped my bike over, making use of the curb to rest the handlebars on, while I swiftly and skilfully went about swapping the inner-tube and plucking the pesky thorn from my tyre (luckily I had a pear of long-nosed plies in my work tool-kit because I find thorns can be a challenge to remove without).

Interaction #3 – the familiar face and coffee

I sometimes have this sense of regret when shying out of certain random situations arise in favour of following on with what I had planned out in my head; “Be open to random” I tell myself, but on this occasion I couldn’t tell myself loud/encouragingly enough. Instead I cycled on to another café where I have known the owner for a number of years and like to drop in on her whenever I’m in the area; her coffee and company is familiar to me and having two lots of coffee in the space of an hour would quickly land me in Overdose territory.

As always the coffee and company here was pleasant and after having a little chat and a glance through a newspaper available to me I travelled on my way.

[Oh I would like to take this opportunity to mention a few news articles that grabbed my attention]:

Firstly regarding the soldier who suffered a heart-attack just a few miles from the finish line of the London Marathon; it always strikes me when someone who can only be at the peak of physical condition can suffer this fate – or maybe they’re simply too used to pushing themselves so hard, to what they think they are capable when for whatever reason on this occasion they’re not.

Secondly there was a short article about the number of people suffering from arthritis who are unhappy with their pain medication and often turn to over-the-counter medication to supplement their prescription drugs. To me the problem often seems to stem from an expectation of the medical professions (i.e. science and scientists, and the drugs they prescribe) to simply fix them – I think there is a much greater ability within ourselves to overcome, or at least limit the pain we feel through changing our lifestyles and our mindsets, an ability that is too infrequently subscribed to or promoted, either through ignorance (which can at times can be of an honest nature) or poor practice.

And thirdly, a page written by Vanessa Feltz, who I have to be honest here makes me want to switch off the radio when she takes over from Jeremy Vine on his Radio 2 show – I’ll not get into my reasons here because I think they are somewhat harsh, but her written piece on this occasion I found to be deeply insightful. She had been on holiday and was shocked and saddened to see so many people, families, youngsters and their parents glued to their gadgets; mobile phones and tablets, interacting with these instead of enjoying their holiday and interacting with each other, noting all the things these people were missing out on; the beautiful world around them. It’s a sad sign of the times and made me think about how much I switch off from the world, and I don’t even do Facebook, texting or tablets.

Then the day in question and more human interaction.

Interaction #4 – “free coffee?”

I had been called out to another job, this time in the city some 20 miles away. I rarely go there these days and it must have been some months since I visited the high street last, maybe it was last year.

I arrived in the area with an hour to spare until my appointment so I ventured into the high street – I had planned to do this either before my appointment or after, depending on whether I arrived in good time, which I did. My primary motive was to inspect some road atlases in a book shop and to see if any were available in one of the many second hand shops (another one of these things where there is such a plethora of choices online but due to the nature of browsing online makes choosing and comparing such a time-consuming challenge.)

Here in the high street of the city I was blessed with a myriad of human interactions, ones which are new to me because they’re all unfamiliar faces and something wonderful put a smile on my face and put me in a very open, receptive and welcoming mood for these interactions; I was offered a free cup of coffee. There was a lady in the high street working for Debenhams and as I was passing by her she held out an empty cup and a leaflet “free cup of coffee at Debenhams?” I immediately recognised the tactic, in fact I was expecting the leaflet to be some sort of questionnaire, but it was not; they simply wanted to increase the foot-fall in their store and promote the current 25% offering – plus, as psychologists will tell you, when you’re given something for nothing you immediately feel obliged to give something in return, i.e. your money, not to mention the positive effect of being given something out of the blue. Whatever the motive I gladly accepted the offer of a free cup of coffee, but first proceeded up the road a little further to scour a particular charity shop for second hand road atlases.

Interaction #5 – the shared eye contact

While I was slipping the paper cup carefully into my bag whilst walking along the street, a young lady caught my attention; colours, hair, gender, style, age, put a smile on my face and we shared an interaction for maybe a second or two, but it was one of those moments that transcend the passing of time. And then as the moment lingered it became awkward but now proceeding away from each other I chuckled quietly to myself.

Interaction #6 – the big issue guy

Then the big issue guy offered me a copy of his publication, for which I politely but cheerfully declined – they’re often so very cheerful these big-issuists; my impression is they quite appreciate a polite and cheerful decline to, well, anything less – and for my ‘effort’ he wished me well.

Interaction #7 – the charity shop guy

I found the travel section but it was devoid of what I was looking for, but then some titles on the shelves to the left grabbed my attention. The mood was lively here with a man behind me singing along to “I’m a soul man” – I was tempted to interject my own verse about personally preferring rock, but I elected to keep quiet. I began procrastinating about a couple of books – their weight since I had some way to cycle was of concern, I wondered if I could absorb what I wanted without buying at least one of them, and I quite liked a little teapot I had inspected on the way in.

I chose all three in the end and got into a brief casual conversation with the guy at the counter, partly about the price label on the teapot; whether the 1 was a 9 or the 9 was a 1, then about whether I wanted a bag, because on the second time of being asked I thought he was asking “are you on a bike” since I was still wearing my cycling gloves, then about how I had been his first sale of the day. Upon leaving I bid a good day – telling customers “Have a nice day” is something American I picked up over a decade ago, but I find myself compelled to wish workers this when I’m the customer; I felt it was generally an empty gesture when in America because staff are told to say it, but when I say it it feels deeper.


Interaction #8 – the barista and the customer

Then returning along the high street from whence I’d come, I went into the department store to retrieve my free cup of coffee. Of course I first had to proceed through the sections the free offering of coffee was really all about and I politely glanced around and mindfully took in things I might one day be interested in purchasing. There was then a little queue at the café at the far end of the store but as it proceeded swiftly until only one customer was ahead of me the atmosphere was again cheerful and I interacted in kind with both the lady in front and the guy behind the counter.

I was still smiling while I was sipping my mediocre cup of coffee and absorbing pages of one of my purchases; fresh coffee with cold milk on the side doesn’t taste so good to me, somewhat bitter; steaming the milk and serving the drink as a latte is what is required – if I didn’t know this then I would have just assumed the place sells bad coffee and if the offer of a free cup was to encourage me to buy one in the future then their tactic would have failed; but it was free coffee at that was sweet in itself.

Then back outside the sunny weather, oh I hadn’t mentioned the weather, well it was sunny with blue skies and lovely fluffy white clouds, warm enough to cycle in just a shirt and t-shirt once moving, but now it had decided to present the pavements with an April shower. I put my coat on to return to my bike, and opted out of slipping my waterproof trousers on to proceed to my client, which was a somewhat false move since my trousers started to absorb the spots. However, I was still smiling when the rain shower turned to snow!

Snow! Yay!

Interaction #9 – the magical clients

It had been a while since I’d seen a snow shower. Just 20 miles from home but across the Menai Straits that separate Anglesey from the rest of Wales, and closer to the mountains of Snowdonia, this area naturally draws the white stuff out of the sky whereas my area rarely does. Plus, as a peculiar quirk, at least once before I have arrived at this client’s house with snow around me – I’m thinking there is something magical going on; they’re nice people and again there was further friendly chatting.

Interaction #10 – “chips please!”

Computer fixed and back on my way. The snow has stopped and the skies are blue with white fluffiness once more. Part the way home I start to feel a disconnecting from my body; something I’ve noticed before when cycling but sometimes feel no other association, but on this occasion I decided it was important for me to pull over and have my lunch. I pull into the car-park of one of the many galleries on the island. There are benches for me to sit at and quietly eat the sandwiches I have packed, “but, oh! Is that… that’s chips I smell from the café!” (I don’t mean potato chips to American readers.) Since recently acknowledging my slight anosmia and this coupled with my cycling and finding myself generally only eating as a means to refuel, I have decided to more actively follow my nose on the occasions when it picks up a scent. The smell of chips couldn’t be ignored and I opted to buy some.

The café was quite busy, and I trundled my way to the counter. I looked over the menu but everything seemed too “fussy”, I just wanted some chips, but this was a café, not a chippy, but I politely inquired if I could have something based around chips because that was what I was craving. I smirked as I made my first request. Chips were agreed and my second request also; to eat outside, for which no one else had thought to do – perhaps it was still too cold out for everyone who had travelled by car; I would have been too warm sitting inside.

Interaction #11 – the JWs

Back at home I had once again missed the JWs (Jehovah’s Witnesses) – that’s twice now since last week I was helping my brother paint a room – but on this occasion they had kindly left me another of their leaflets – I’m thankful they haven’t fallen out with me, I suppose on this occasion I had already had my fill of Human Interaction.

With so much of my social interactions with people being carried out online, a lot via the virtual world that is Second Life where I have a few wonderful friends, I often feel concerned how little I interact with “real people in a real way”, and sometimes feel so very distant and disconnected from both others and even with some part of myself. I’m in my 30s yet still seem to be finding some lacking confidence and will to interact offline (or it maybe be classed as a lack of interest). Every day I feel some compulsion to “log in” but I’m trying to combat this by being mindful of what interactions I have offline during the course of a day, even if it’s a casual component to a conversation with a client, or a brief polite exchange in a shop, and using these to convince myself “I’ve had my social-fix for today, I don’t need to log in.”

One comment

  1. I, too, have days like these. As I work from home I often don’t interact enough with other people so I make a point of going to the shops or for a walk every day. I try to smile or make a comment to people at the bus stop, workmen or people doing their garden. I also avoid self-checkouts

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