During this past week, I have come to realize how important being more attentive to our surroundings can be. I realized that it could enable me to engage more intensively with new people I meet. Although this approach sometimes filled me with warmth and belief in humanity, it also led to frustration when others were unwilling to engage in the same sort of openness. On Saturdays, at Eastern Market I greatly enjoy speaking to the vendors and getting to know a bit more about their products, as well as their approach to producing food. Last Saturday, as I made my way to the Zen Organics stand to get my weekly raw granola (it’s absolutely amazing, and I definitely recommend it to anyone visiting Eastern Market), I began to chat with the vendor. I told him how delicious I thought his granola was, but our conversation shifted when I took the time to observe how he communicated with me. Not only the cadence of his voice, but his eyes and I realized that they seemed to transmit a true sense of empathy and understanding. This enabled me to open up about my own life and aspirations, to start building a friendship. But what strikes me about it now, is how important it is to take the time to observe and be willing to discover a stranger’s personality, since it opens the door to a beautiful learning experience. Getting to know a new person can teach you about a place, what it means to experience certain emotions and even about yourself. My time in Detroit has been filled with numerous such encounters, which I will take back with me to France, where I will paint a picture for my family and friends, of a place of altruistic people with a fervent desire to learn more about those they encounter.
But later in the week I realized that not everyone is ready to embrace such an attitude and some people refuse to take the time to appreciate the mysteries of every person they meet? On Monday, Thomas and I attempted our first round of intercept surveying. Stopping people in the bustling streets of downtown to ask them questions about MoGo, appeared to be much harder than I thought. When people would look at me with their fearful gaze, I quickly became pessimistic. Was our society really that individualistic? Were people not even willing to participate in a survey for the improvement of their city? I wondered if MoGo had been a free service, whether people would have been more enthusiastic about providing feedback on the bike share program?
This brings me to this mural that I notice every time we take the 2nd avenue route back from work.
“Today we need to combine learning with work, political struggle, community service and even play.”
What strikes me in these words is the idea that learning should be at the heart and core of all these elements of our lives. For that to be the case, we have to engage our curiosity constantly and never assume we understand everything. In a way, it is precisely the purpose of this week’s blog post. To be observant extends beyond watching and looking, but also requires that you recognize that no matter how closely you do look, you might still be missing something.
While kayaking on the Huron River with friends in Ann Arbor this Saturday, the discussion gravitated towards finding purpose in our work lives. I realized this week that many of us, like the bustling downtown Detroiters I tried to survey, become so fixated on the short-term goals in our workspaces that we forget to see the bigger picture. At work, we measure “accomplishment” or “success” based on our ability to apply certain skills, which we learn. But often we forget to learn during the time we spend with our families or when we are walking down the street. Learning is also about lessons from other peoples’ experiences and that requires us to stop and talk to strangers on the Qline or on Woodward Avenue. As we begin to work towards that goal, I can envision a world in which people seek to learn more by being open to new ideas and ways of thinking, not only in their work, but in their own homes or in the streets of their cities. Those people will see someone surveying in the street and say, I have a few minutes, could you tell me a bit more about your study and even perhaps, could I participate?