“That’s a nice coat,” he said from behind me as I was about to cross the road in San Francisco this morning. I turned towards him to smile and he said, “Pretty eyes too.” While I was trying to figure out who he was from his long shaggy grey hair, empty bottle in his back pocket and lack of coat or jacket in freezing cold weather, he said, “I like complimenting people. I like to see them smile.” And he walked off.
All week I’ve been reflecting on the choices we make. As I wandered through the city I realised how much I could learn from studying San Francisco in more detail. Whether through history, culture, trends, events, businesses, geography or something else, I was aware that any one of those topics would give me a rich view into human life, but I also knew that I wasn’t going to do it, however interesting it might be.
When virtually all knowledge is freely available and you can learn almost any skill on the internet, you have to make choices. It makes no sense any longer to even imagine there’s some universally valuable curriculum or central cultural foundation we all share.
Every moment I can make a choice about what I do, what I think about and what I feel. Every choice I make is going to impact my future. This feels like a huge responsibility. How on earth can I handle so many choices?
I saw a homeless man wearing 3 pairs of trousers. The outside ones were only pulled up to his knees, restricting his movement considerably. As I wondered why he didn’t pull them all the way up I realised that this was his choice, for some reason I may not understand. And I realised that at some level he had made a choice also to live a particular way – not the way I live, but his way nonetheless. I thought how patronising it is to feel sorry for people who live on the street.
I am almost overwhelmed at how much choice we have. It makes me realise how very important it is to be conscious about what I’m choosing, just like the man who complimented me on the street corner. He knows that seeing someone smile is valuable to him.