In the Scheme of Things
Nov 9, 2015
After a two hour drive from the hotel, my husband and I arrived early morning in a small Wisconsin town on Lake Superior. That's where our excursion to the Apostle Island National Lakeshore would begin. Our reservations were on a double-decker boat which held 149 people, and 40 minutes prior to launch at least half of them were lined up on the dock.
After all, it was an entire morning adventure and there were only two seating options: inside on a cool early fall day, or the chillier better-views top deck. We wanted the latter and joined the line. As loading began, the majority seemed aligned with us. By the time it was our turn to board, the top deck was nearly full and we moved quickly to claim a bench for two near the back. Across the aisle and one row behind was a similar bench marked "Crew Only." In five minutes that was the only space open on the upper deck.
More than a dozen parties-of-two longingly looked at the open bench marked "Crew Only" before going downstairs where seats were plentiful. But one young couple didn't. They ignored the large black print on the back of the bench and sat down. As soon as the boat cleared the harbor, the college-age crew assigned to the upper deck arrived to take their seats. The couple didn't offer to move and the crew didn't ask them to. Instead, these crew members stood in a tiny area nearby for the 3.5 hour excursion.
Now weeks after this vacation outing, the incident still lingers with me. Not just because that inconsiderate couple disregarded the sign and treated the staff rudely, but because it was a tipping point, of sorts, for me. Is it coincidence that I'm only noticing red light-ignorers, impolite shoppers, disrespectful rule-breakers, and myopically focused people these days?
It's as if a mental line was crossed that day. For the past few weeks my brain seems to search out evidence, and pay attention to the bad behavior of people around me. Where we place our focus tends to be what we find. So if we focus too much in one direction, we can train our brain to only find and see bad behaviors while it filters out good ones that don't fit.
In the scheme of things, it's time for me to do what Dr. Rich Hanson, neuropsychologist and author of Hardwiring Happiness calls "self-directed neuroplasticity"; that is, intentionally using your mind to change your brain. "The key," he says, "is a controlled use of attention. Attention is like a spotlight, to be sure, shining on things within our awareness. But it's also like a vacuum cleaner, sucking whatever it rests upon into the brain, for better or worse."
In this season of Thanksgiving, I've decided to re-ignite my attention and remind my brain of the vast majority of good hearted people who make a difference with their simple actions: the person who gives up his seat so a family can sit together, the caretaker who dispenses help without judgment, the stranger who makes it easy to merge in heavy traffic, the friendly cashier who offers a smile, and the millions of wonderful people, who by nature of their genuine kindness and generous spirit, make the day better. I'm grateful these people are overflowing in my world. Now, if I just focus my attention, I'll see even more of them.