The Man On The Streetcar- A Story About Values
Updated: Jun 13, 2019
This is my last post of 2018. I feel good sharing this story with you at the close of the year.
There's a lot of buzz around values. Are your employees aligned with corporate values? Are you living in line with your personal values?
What are values anyway and how do you live aligned with them?
Values are the principles we hold most dear. They are the gold nuggets of truth we want to be remembered for-- the wisdom of what's most important to us.
Once you have clarity on what yours are, you're able to make choices (big and small) that are in line with them. That helps you feel more authentic and sincere, as I riffed on here. Values can be a very powerful filter through which to assess big decisions or daily choices about how you want to be.
I've done a lot of work clarifying my values and have a couple years practicing using them in day to day interactions.
Within my top 5 values are these puppies: kindness, fairness and gratitude.
So now... the story. I hope that sharing it might inspire you-- that you might ask yourself "What's most important to me? What's one thing I can do today to be more aligned with those values?"
The Man on the Streetcar
I was riding home on the streetcar today with my two year old son. He's been sick and I wanted to squeeze in one last visit with the doctor before the holidays. He was quieter than usual as we climbed the stairs of the streetcar, tired and curious about the ride.
A man with blackened stubby teeth, weathered skin and the sunken cheeks of a drug user was sitting across from the open seat at the front of the streetcar.
As we sat down he remarked, "what a beautiful little boy you have there."
My first instincts were: should I respond? should I talk to this man? are we safe? Honing in on his sober eyes and his sincerity, and embracing my principles of kindness, fairness and gratitude, I responded.
"Thank you, he is beautiful, isn't he?"
The man seemed to want to continue talking. "You are the luckiest person in the world right now," he said to me.
"I do feel that way." I told him "I feel so very lucky."
He shared a few more compliments with me about my son and then I said, "it seems like you really like children."
"I guess," he said, unsure.
"You know..." he added, "I have a child."
"I chose to sign her over to Children's Aid so that she could have a better life than I could give her. I thought it was the right thing to do."
"Wow" I said softly, nodding and listening, "it seems like you really wanted to give her the best life you could."
"Yes. I really did."
He then told me her name; that he put his personal information in the papers so she could find him when she's 16, if she wants to; that he wouldn't pursue her unless she came to find him; that when she was small she liked shiny things; and that she was now six.
"I have a child around the same age," I told him. "She's at school today."
It was hard to imagine that we had a child the same age. Even though I often look in the mirror and lament my deepening facial lines and grey hairs, he looked so much older than me. I wondered whether he'd still be alive in ten years if his daughter came looking for him.
The conversation began winding down. I was trying to listen with the most open heart I could muster. It wasn't that hard. I was enjoying our dialogue.
"You know," he said. "I've never told anyone about my daughter. I don't know why I told you about that. But thanks for listening."
"Thanks for sharing." I said.
It's not always easy to be open-hearted-- to listen without judgement. We are sometimes afraid. Sometimes we need to be afraid. But often we don't.
I don't know exactly why I'm telling you this story. Perhaps because I think it makes me look kind and I hope you'll like me. Perhaps because it takes the complexity out of value-aligned living. Perhaps I hope it will spark something in you-- that it will remind you of how you want to be in this world and have the courage to go ahead and be it.
May we find in our hearts the courage to name what is most important to us and to live every day as though we were the embodiment of that wisdom.
Happy New Year.