3 Lessons I Learned From Street Snooping
#3 — The world is flatter than you think
The eye which sees everything fails to see itself.
Except, of course, its reflection in a mirror.
… for the eyes see not itself, but by reflection, by some other things.
~William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
So it is with emotional intelligence. Many of those who are deficient in this vital social skill are tone-deaf and ignorant of their lack.
A street conversation between two unknown strangers aptly revealed this some days ago. I was privy though, uninvited, to what at first seemed like an open street exchange. Except that, it was a one-woman talking to an audience of one — herself.
One woman, a hawker, was sitting by her wares in her makeshift roadside stall. The other woman and her daughter were pacing toward the infant’s school. Their path crossed the hawker’s stall.
Unhurried, I was enjoying the scenery as I progressed on my walk.
Mother and child had barely passed the stall when the hawker suddenly exploded in a cacophony against the other lady and her daughter.
“So this is your daughter. I can’t believe a slim woman like you has such a fat baby.”
Unruffled, mother and daughter kept walking along. Silently. Neither of them heeded this rattler of a hawker.
The entire exchange lasted for about 20 seconds. From my corner across the road, I saw mother and child. They were now beyond earshot.
But, I felt embarrassed for them.
Unable to let go, I crossed the road to confront the hawker. Unannounced but gentle, my goal was to set her straight.
Howbeit, the question kept lurking in my mind.
“Who sent you?” and “Why not mind your business?”
“No, you don’t talk to people like that. What you do is take her and her daughter as you see them. Take people as you see them. Whether they are fat or slim, tall or short, dark or fair, good-looking or otherwise. Did you notice that she didn’t answer you? You’ve embarrassed her and her daughter. Unprovoked.”
She took my gentle but firm rebuke with a smirch. Her all-knowing smile left me half-amused. I was unsure of what to make of her smile. Was she sniggering at my audacity for calling her out? Was she being remorseful?
In quick succession, she queried me.
“Do you know the woman and her daughter?”
I calmly replied, “I don’t know her, but what you’ve just done is unacceptable and I must let you know it.”
“OK, thank you. I didn’t know it was wrong.”
Not yet done, her second question was hard on the heels of her first.
“Do you know me?”
“No, I don’t.”
What followed next was stunning.
It turned out that the hawker whom I thought was a total stranger knew me thoroughly. I can’t even recall having met her in the past. But with a mischievously lively smile, she answered her last question.
“I know you, your wife, and where you’re living. Also, I’ve been to your house to work with your wife and others during one of our church’s programs.”
Not yet done, she ended with, “In fact, I can tell the story of your life. When you get back home, tell your wife about me.” She mentioned my wife’s name.
It all ended well between us. Indeed, our earth is flatter than we think.
Back home, I related the incident to my sister. Her reply was, “Yes, people do it all the time — body shaming — others.” Her words, “body shaming” didn’t come to my mind during my chance encounter with the stranger that knew me.
Why do people body-shame others?
People who body shame others have low levels of emotional intelligence.
Emotional Intelligence (EI) also called Emotional Quotient (EQ) is “the ability to understand, use, and manage your own emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges and defuse conflict.” (Dr. Jeanne Segal)
“Emotional intelligence helps you build stronger relationships, succeed at school and work, and achieve your career and personal goals. It can also help you connect with your feelings, turn intention into action, and make informed decisions about what matters most to you.”
Some medical conditions like autism may predispose some individuals to low emotional intelligence. We can bear with that. But why do some ordinary, seemingly normal people manifest low EI?
Why do some people show little or no Emotional Intelligence?
Lack of self-awareness. People who act before they think things through are often unaware of their own feelings. This hinders them from seeing or feeling what others see or feel.
Over-preoccupation with self can make you tone-deaf. This manifests as acute insensitivity and inability to see others’ points of view. Excessive self-preoccupation makes people unconcerned about others’ wholesome sensitivities, opinions, or personal preferences.
Refusing to empathize with others. Willful ignorance of what others are experiencing hinders our human connection and the development of emotional intelligence.
When you notice what is wrong anywhere, correct it to the best of your ability and as the situation permits it. Failure to correct the social ill of body shaming hurts all of us — sooner or later.
Train yourself and your loved ones to be empathetic and to call out any evil wherever they see it.
Don’t hurt others just because you think you will never see those people again. You may be unable to get away with it at the end of the day.
The world is flatter than we think it is. Indeed, the stranger you are seeing from a distance may be your next-door neighbor after all.
Thank you for reading. This story was originally published in Medium
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