There are two types of people in this world…

That’s the old prefix that we give to an idea that we’re about to overgeneralize in an extreme way (and quite possibly to such an extent that it loses the meaning that we intended for it to have). More often than not what it describes is the differences between people and even more likely the choices that they make (that we perceive as being right or wrong).

On this topic, I recently started to wonder about how we treat strangers. Depending on our jobs and daily routines our lives might even be dominated by our interactions with strangers rather than the people whose lives we have some sort of stake in. People treat strangers in different ways, and I’ve been trying to pay attention to it lately. Sometimes, it seems like these people are a hinderence – people making you wait in line, slowing down traffic, employees at a store not doing their jobs, angry customers demanding a service when you’re tired after 8 hours of work, etc. In a city, if you stop and look around you’ll notice tens or even hundreds of people who you don’t care about one way or another. It’s a sobering thought to realize they don’t really care about you either and have no concept of you, just as you have no concept of them. Every now and then, there will be something that prompts you to interact with them and then you have two choices: 1) to treat them as someone you don’t care about, or 2) to make them into a person and treat them like you would someone whose feelings you have a stake in.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that the overwhelming majority of people fall into category #1, or at least choose to react that way most of the time. They may be polite or impolite about it (depending on their attitude toward good manners), but that person isn’t someone they’d go out of their way for. People who fall into category #2 are those who I have tremendous respect for. Having noticed them, I understand why some people I like right away without understanding why. I think these are the people who lift you up when you’re having a bad day or make you feel more connected to humanity for a brief period of time. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the world is better when people treat each other as people. In reality, it’s so difficult to be this way in modern society – where people are physically close but emotionally separate.

Personally, I want to try to be someone who is that type of person. Still, even after realizing it, it’s so hard to do because you’re often thinking about what’s your next task or action. You hardly even realize you’re interacting with a human being because you’re so focused on what’s happening next. The good news is that every time I notice myself doing this, I get one step closer to treating the next person I meet as an actual person. Even if I am thinking up a storm.