Let Someone Go Ahead of You

I was at the store the other day and was watching an old lady, cane in hand, slowly make her way across the atrium area to a door for a department store. When she reached the door, a man swung it open so hard that it would have knocked the old lady over if she hadn’t been just out of reach, then he continued on his way without even giving the old lady a glance. Several other people stepped to the side and used the other door as the old woman struggled to open it and quickly went on their way without stopping to offer and help. There was an opportunity for at least 5 people to help, but none of them did and the thing is, I don’t think that any of them even realized that they hadn’t helped. They had been so busy and focused on what they were doing and where they were going that they had simply failed to recognize that someone could use a helping hand.

It reminded me of the story of Joshua Bell and the experiment he did about this time last year. For those not familiar, Joshua Bell is one of the premier violinists in the world — you would expect to pay $100 a seat or more to listen to him play. He decided to take his talent and play as a street performer at a Metro station in Washington DC with his $3.5 million 1710 Stradivari in hand.

You would expect that someone of such talent would create quite a stir, but it didn’t quite turn out that way. For the 45 minutes he played, a total of 7 people out of the over 1000 that passed by actually stopped to listen. While the article is rather long, it’s a great read and well worth your time.

I’m a bit ashamed to admit this, but the article actually made me cry and I’m not one to cry easily (in fact, I’m not sure if any other article has ever made me cry). There was something about it that I found profoundly sad — that so many would pass by too much in a hurry to listen to the beauty that was right in front of them. It also hurt because as much as I wanted to believe I would have been one of the seven that stopped, I knew in my heart that I was more likely to be one of the other 1000 that simply walked on by.

After reading that article last year, I decided that I needed to slow down and that I needed to pay more attention to the things around me. And a funny thing happened. I started to notice that there are a lot of people like the old lady with the cane that could use a little bit of help if anyone noticed.

If you get the chance, slow down a bit today and let someone go in front of you. Open the door and let them go in first, wave them ahead of you in line or yield the right of way to them on the street. Not only will they appreciate the gesture, I think that you’ll find that you like yourself a whole lot better when you aren’t so focused that you forget to see what is going on around you.

Feel free to leave a comment about the Joshua Bell article, any experience you have had letting others go before you or just your general thoughts about slowing down and paying attention a bit more. Each comment will add 10 cents to the microloan fund. If you enjoyed this post or the blog in general, please tell others that may also enjoy it. The more that comment, the more microloans we can give.

24 thoughts on “Let Someone Go Ahead of You”

  1. Wow, that is astonishing to think that we as a people are so blinded by the rush and hustle of our everyday lives that we would totally ignore such a privileged thing. I remember stopping to listen to a guitar player in a subway in Paris, and noticing that everyone else around me completely ignored the guy. Such a shame. We need to slow down and live our lives in the here and now instead of always looking ahead to the next big thing, really. I’m guilty of that myself. Now I just want to go home and hug my babies and sit down and play a game with them…sigh.

  2. There’s a time and a place for listening to music, particularly classical, and it’s unfair to suggest that Joshua Bell is somehow more likely to attract attention than the other talented people who play on street corners. In practice, only certain types of people will stop to listen and it isn’t so much about them being in a hurry as being uninterested at that point in time. If you only hear a few seconds’ worth of the music, you’re unlikely to acknowledge that it’s worth sticking around for more. On the other hand, if you’re a tourist then you’re more likely to have a lot of free time to spare.
    Giving way to other people is something you do when you can, not all of the time. If you’ve got the day off work, it’s a lot easier but if you’ve genuinely got somewhere to be then letting one person go in front of you is probably the most you can manage.
    I remember once in my car I was close to tears because someone was kind enough to let me merge into the fast-flowing traffic. It’s common for people to let you in, and so perfectly natural to return the favour when you can. But I’ve also known people who are simply too helpful, and slow everyone down…

  3. Your post and the Joshua Bell link provide some good food for thought. I think that many of us who live in cold (and by cold, I mean both emotional and environmental temperature!) urban areas tend to harden ourselves against noticing, well, anything, because of bad experiences with overaggressive panhandlers or urban annoyances in general.

    I am a little surprised that no one at all offered assistance to the elderly woman in your story. I do know that male friends and family members of mine have been practically turned upon on occasion when offering help to young or even not-so-young women, whose radical feminism is apparently more important to them than politely accepting or declining a man’s attempt to hold a door or elevator for them.

  4. thanx for the reminder. many of us mean to pay attention, it just doesn’t always work in practice. good intentions are not always enough. jan

  5. If everyday, every person would do a simple good dead for another, our Country would be a happier place. This can be as easy as a smile in another’s direction.

  6. Such a good idea. I try to notice one “little” thing a day and document it.

    Your blog is my little thing for the day.

    thank you

  7. This article was harsh. I’m with you, Mr. HKH: I’d like to think that I was one of the 7 who would stop but in reality … I’m 90% sure I’d be the guy who was like, “Oh, there was someone playing something?” I hope I remember this article and slow down a bit. Speaking of commuters, though, here’s another good deed to try: When you’re lucky enough to snag a seat on the train or BART or the bus or whatever, LOOK AROUND and give your seat up for an elderly person or a pregnant woman. As a daily commuter into San Francisco, I see soooooooooooooooo many rude people who won’t give their seats up, although there’s a sign that says “These seats must be made available for elderly and disabled people” or what have you.

    Mr. HKH and fellow readers: If you see a “minor” injustice being done … on the level of someone not giving a seat up for someone who clearly needs it … would you get up in that person’s face? What’s the right thing to do?

  8. Great Blog! And yes it is sad to see how the world has gone in such a rush that one cannot help another human being in need.
    Quite a number of time I’ve been witness of such cases, one that marked me the most was a guy talking on his cell on the road side beside his motorbike, in order to remove his helmet the guy had to remove his glasses, and they fell off the bike as he was about ready to put his helmet back on and didn’t notice it. Right beside his bike there was a beggard seated on the pavement begging for money who probably saw the whole glasses incident, along with a few passer by. I was the only one to see the thing from the distance, and uppon seeing that the guys was about to leave without his glasses I ran a little and picked up the glasses for him. A simple act that anybody around could have done but didn’t!
    In the same vein, it seem people are forgetting about saying nice things too, as if saying hello and Thanks to a doorman is not worthy of someone’s time anymore!

  9. We’re all in such a rush these days, huh?
    It’s good to slow down and enjoy life. It’s also good to just observe your surroundings.

  10. DG asked: Mr. HKH and fellow readers: If you see a “minor” injustice being done … on the level of someone not giving a seat up for someone who clearly needs it … would you get up in that person’s face? What’s the right thing to do?

    Well, I wouldn’t get in anyone’s face. I think the right thing to do in that situation is to do it yourself, if possible — offer your seat if you have one, for example, even if it isn’t one of the ‘designated’ seats. If you don’t have one, you could ask the person you think clearly needs one whether they’re all right standing, and if you can do anything to help. They might actually be fine, and if not, I think there’s a fairly decent chance someone nearby will offer their seat at that point. Often, people just aren’t paying enough attention to see that something needs to be done, and they will once they notice. One thing to keep in mind is that someone sitting in the disabled/elderly seats who looks fine might in fact have an ‘invisible’ disability that nonetheless makes them unable to ride standing for any length of time — and another is that someone who looks like they need a seat may prefer to stand, rather than have attention drawn to it. It’s a tricky situation, but getting aggressive is never likely to help.

  11. Where I live there are a lot of polite people, sometimes I have to jump on the bus salmon-like before it drives away because people are all standing there going “after you” “no after YOU” etc! I hope that I appreciate it enough and always try to make sure I let at least one person a day on the bus before me.

  12. Thanks for a great post and the link to the WP story! Makes you think, doesn’t it? I used to live in NYC, and made it a point to try to stop for musicians in the subway… I often did, but when I was in a rush, I went about my way. I really wonder what I would have done if I was at this DC station that morning.

  13. The beginning made me sad, with the older lady. It kills me, really. I used to work at an old folks home, it always made me feel better to be helping them.

  14. ilovecats has a great point. if each person did just one thing per day how much could we change the country.

    i am going to try to do at least on thing each day. yesterday i went back to a door to hold it open for a mother with a small child in a stroller who was struggling against the wind with a door.

  15. That was a sad article. I would have probably walked by just because of the odds. This reminds me of my reaction when I learned about the Milgram experiment. I wondered if I would have been among the majority of people who chose to administer what they thought was electrical shock of 450 volts to people. Very unsettling.

  16. I like to help Mom’s with strollers get the door. I remember being loaded down and trying to open a door. It’s not easy. I also try to smile and wave at crying toddlers when in line at the grocery store. It often times distracts them from whatever they are upset about. It just calms everyone down!

    There are lots of ways to help people…we just need to be looking for them!

  17. I think only in slowing down and taking the time to notice what is going on around us can we hope to change the world. How many crimes would be prevented if we all just took the time to pay attention to what goes on right in front of us? How many people’s lives could we impact if we took a moment to help those who are too shy/intimidated to ask for a hand? How much good could we all do in just one week?

    Definitely food for thought. Thanks!

  18. The sad part is truly the mindset that you gotta push, push, push to keep up, get ahead or stay ahead. Better you teach yourself and your kids if you have them to make do with less in life, crave less “stuff” that doesn’t truly bring much pleasure. Don’t strive so hard for things you truly don’t need. It’s great to find out that maybe you don’t have to rush around so much for what little you get out of it. By all means, work hard but let it be for something truly worthwhile for somebody else, something that might have a lasting effect for everybody’s good. Give people your time. That’s my goal these days, anyway. Being on foot (no longer owning a car) has drastically changed my life and perceptions about nearly everything around me, and I like the changes.

  19. I know I would have been one of the ones to open the door for the older woman but not sure if I would have taken time to listen to someone playing. I think the outcome would have been somewhat different had he been further into the mall rather than at an entryway where people were more “on a mission” to come or go, but it still makes the point.

  20. Bravo. My husband routinely opens doors for people, little old ladies or not. On more than one occasion, people don’t even acknowledge this gesture with a “thank you”. But on the flip side, I have seen others who were genuinely shocked by the piece of common courtesy and evoked a smile and a sincere “thank you”. On the rare occasion when a young man (of say about 12 yrs) helped me in someway, without prompting, I made a point to stop his father and tell him how proud of his YOUNG MAN he should be.

    I truly believe that if enough people can take the time to slow down, smile or say hello, that the ripple effect can affect the world.

  21. I am the type of person that always feels compelled to be early to work or for appointments. This gives me the time to stop and smell the flowers or wait for someone else…the upside of this is that I still am not late for work. 🙂

  22. This article touched my heart. Just for today, I am going to slow down and see what’s around me.

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