Compassion in city spaces

I wonder why I am drawn to crowded cities– to places where people saturate the streets, to town squares, escalators, stairways, buses, footpaths and every place imaginable in a metropolis. To spaces where unrelated people throng in a crowd, random people sit together, eat beside one another and loiter for little reason.

Yet, paradoxically, I love a lot of space in public spaces. Perhaps mostly mental, not physical. I think this is why I am drawn to crowded cafes in preference to more elegant haunts where the presence of other people is downplayed as much as possible through dim lighting.

On my most trying days, I prefer refuge in a small room in a crowded space where noise from the streets drift up through the windows and voices of people come into my private world mostly indecipherable but occasionally clearly heard such as a name called out or a song hummed tunelessly. I wonder why the tumultuous music of humanity is always a far more homey comfort than the cozy nook of a quiet retreat far away from people.

I don’t know. I guess each according to their own.

I find myself at my best amongst fellow humans. The knowledge that life is gushing by in all its un-finessed, sinewy wonder all around me keeps me far more connected to civilization than the narrative of it through the media or books.

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I have discovered that in such crowded spaces, sometimes the best way to be is to be silent. The best friend to talk to is to talk to yourself. The most that you can say is to say nothing at all when someone sits beside you.

In a world of humdrum noise you can find silence amongst people.

I have discovered that when a random stranger from a completely different world opens up to you in a cafe, the best way to do good is to show human compassion. Often, the best way to show compassion in a crowded city space is to listen to a stranger without judgement. For opinions are plentiful in a place full of humanity but compassion is not.

Often, the most compassionate strangers to receive human kindness from in city spaces are the loiterers, the wasters of time, the directionless hanging out in the background of life’s directed flow who leave their own plans behind to listen.

Sometimes, an encounter with one such stranger could remind you of one of life’s fundamental truths that should not come as an epiphany– that the essence of being human is not intelligence or hard work or skill.

It’s the ability to sense another’s desire to communicate and show compassion in return.

Sometimes, you can save someone in a crowded city space by just lending a sympathetic ear.

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22 thoughts on “Compassion in city spaces”

  1. I am about to move to Saigon, huge sprawling Asian metropolis that it is. I also find peace sometimes in the biggest spaces, and in Asian cities the tempo is different to the West. People smile at you a lot more and want to be your friend and help where they can. The suspicion has gone somehow. It’s the best of human kindness, where you know they only do it for the sake of it because anonymity here is the rule. And that’s truly beautiful 🙂 thanks for this and also liking my blog. I like how you write a lot 🙂

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  2. that is what is so great about city life, those unexpected connections that can be made. you can seek them out or just let them happen. it’s also nice to just take the scene in and keep to yourself. your instincts have your back.

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  3. Beautifully stated. Well worth the time to slow down and read this in a crowded café and then take a look around you.

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  4. I have an equal love of Bright Lights & big cities and nature – surrounded by the world, away from the maddening crowds. Easily at peace in both. Enjoyed reading what the city makes you feel.

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  5. I love this line: “Often, the best way to show compassion in a crowded city space is to listen to a stranger without judgement. For opinions are plentiful in a place full of humanity but compassion is not.” Great work; thanks for sharing this post!
    Kate
    katestull.wordpress.com

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  6. “Sometimes, an encounter with one such stranger could remind you of one of life’s fundamental truths that should not come as an epiphany– that the essence of being human is not intelligence or hard work or skill.”

    This is a truth that I could do well to remember, and hope others will remember it as well!

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  7. Great post…Like you, I love the city and often I have more privacy here than I ever did on a little, sparsely populated island. There’s something comforting about all the activity and buzz in a busy restaurant or on the streets that I can be part of without revealing myself. I’m a serious introvert who loves city life – then I go home to my little apartment and enjoy the quiet there. It’s the best of both worlds for some of us.

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  8. “It’s the ability to sense another’s desire to communicate and show compassion in return.” This line really resonated with me. In the end, we all just want to be heard, to have someone listen, to feel connected. I always very much enjoy your words. Thank you 🙂

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  9. Well, I think I am drawn to big cities because there are more activities to choose from and places to explore, typically, because the demand for more places for people to go to inspires diversity and abundance of things to do. I’ve lived in various small villages and big cities in Europe, a big-ish city in the U.S. and the American backwoods. Then again, I don’t like them too big because I have very little patience for tourists and tourists tend to be more attracted by the bigger cities in Europe than the little villages.

    I’m with you on talking to strangers in cafes. As long as you can understand and navigate the language of the city you are in, or there’s someone in there who wants to practice English or German, you can learn a lot and be inspired as well by the kinds of people who loiter around a big city with “no direction”.

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  10. I’m not fond of huge crowds. I’m not a good tourist. It’s my control-freak nature. I love to talk to people, even to have an audience to which I can speak, but I prefer one-on-one conversations or in very small groups. I can people-watch, though, for hours, without interaction. I guess it all has to do with the setting into which I am placed.

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  11. I completely agree with you- the music of life is the best soundtrack. It’s one of the reason I love to be in cities, although I don’t know that I could live in it 24/7. It’s a side of me that my introvert husband just doesn’t understand, so I completely understand where you are coming from here!

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  12. “loiterers, the wasters of time, the directionless hanging out in the background of life’s directed flow who leave their own plans behind to listen”–this is so true. People are lonely and want to be connected to someone, however brief. A friendly, open face stands out in a sea of bored or angry faces.

    I’ve noticed that even when I am reading a book in a public place, someone strikes up a conversation with me. Usually they start by asking what i’m reading, then move on to their lives. Many times, they are older people who probably aren’t heard much by their families.

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  13. “the essence of being human is not intelligence or hard work or skill.
    It’s the ability to sense another’s desire to communicate and show compassion in return.”
    Tangible , true and yet elusive sort of wisdom to humankind.

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  14. I grew up in a big family and craved solitude. My favourite thing in the world is to hill walk and meet no one. I often say “I hate the public”. However I am highly social and most are amazed that this is my true idea of happiness when they find out.

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  15. In our increasingly high-tech culture, lonely rooms encapsulating one soul, hovering human fingers over a keyboard, I wonder what the ‘virtual’ compassion would be…
    A ‘like’, a share, or a comment?
    Can there be virtual compassion?

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