I encounter all kinds of people here on the streets of Paris, from starving artists to storied aristocrats, American tourists to African taxi drivers. The clothing choices run the full spectrum: every day I arch an eyebrow (and attempt to remain non-judgmental) as I pass wardrobes exhibiting, in turns, a refined eye for elegant, discreet quality, a passion for retina-pinching color combinations, and desperate cries for sartorial help, i.e., high fashion. Such is life in this truly international metropolis.
What I see in a variety of individuals, regardless of how they present themselves, is that some have awareness and some don’t. I’ll define awareness as how keenly one is in tune with himself (herself) and his or her surroundings. Some people are aware of how they have dressed for the day, whether it’s a bespoke suit or a pair of jeans and sneakers. They are aware of how loud they are talking, to someone else in front of them or on their phone. They are aware of how they are spending their time, and other people’s time, and make an effort to be efficient and polite.
Most casual and fleeting of these encounters, but often the most revealing, between me and other people is navigating the seemingness omnipresent construction that seems to be going on everywhere right now in Paris. Sidewalks are disaster zones, with barricades, workmen, and machinery pinching access to a good one quarter of the pedestrian walkways in the city. When two of us approach a narrow gauntlet, sometimes it’s possible to just mutually and momentarily turn a shoulder and allow the oncoming person to pass without collision or concern. Other times, it’s necessary for one person to pause and wait for the other to pass.
This small moment tells so much: some people will wait, make eye contact, and smile, offering to let the other pass through first. Some will acknowledge the generosity of the other, and murmur a ‘merci beaucoup’ as they pass by, smiling with appreciation. These are the aware, the most sterling examples of this Old Money attribute.
Others go boldly and perhaps a little rudely forward with no awareness or regard for their fellow citizens. I (quite judgmentally, I must confess) place those persons in a separate and quite unequal category. They haven’t taken the time, or been taught, to be aware of others. It’s unfortunate.
For it is only with awareness that we can evolve. If we don’t know something’s lacking, we can’t improve. We also can’t relate. We can’t connect. We can’t really communicate. We can’t empathize. We can’t make progress, individually or collectively. This awareness is the source from which courtesy, wisdom, and kindness spring.
So let’s be aware.