Dr Stewart Hase - Psychologically Speaking

What goes around comes around

Ive been in Sydney a few times over the past few weeks. Having been born and raised in a city and visited many over the years, cities dont worry me much but they dont give me any sense of awe either. Usually Im quite happy to get home to the relative peace and quiet of Lismore and then the truly somnambulistic lifestyle of Iluka when I am able. But I have come to think that its more than the peace and quiet.

When I travel I try to keep up my routine of walking and jogging. It keeps my doctor happy and mostly at bay! So, early in the morning, I huff and puff my way around the waterfront at Darling Harbour. Usually the boot camp instructors and their army of recruits are pounding the pavements or each other in what appear to me to be very personally dangerous activities. Mostly I keep well clear as they pass me military style. But the also rans (and also walks!) like me are out and about too, flushing the sleep out of their eyes with some good, honest sweat.

Now, I dont actually want to stop and chat to anyone when I am exercising. In fact, it is almost impossible since I hardly have enough breath to keep my body functioning let alone talk. But a simple smile (grimace) or a nod of the head would be nice. Its a sort of recognition of mutual suffering. A camaraderie. Not a chance! It is almost impossible to get eye contact with fellow exercisers in cities and Sydney is really bad for this. They steadfastly just look straight ahead. It would be interesting to know if they do this on purpose (maybe its the garlic I had the night before) or if it is just an ingrained habit. It is fairly well known that people in cities do tend to avoid eye contact in all manner of situations from commuting on buses and trains to just buying a coffee. It does make it easier to be rude doesnt it? It is hard being rude to someone when you are both smiling.

But when out exercising in Iluka, its impossible not to talk to people. Everyone engages with the eyes and then there is the grimace or smile, greeting or grunt, depending whether the other person is a male or female. Ive noticed recently in Lismore that there are more of those types who do not engage than there used to be. The greeters are diminishing. Does that say something about how communities change as they grow bigger and become more impersonal? It has been my long held view that if people talked more to each other over the garden fence (so to speak) wed need less people like me (psychotherapists, psychologists and counsellors). But that is another but related issue.

This all came together for me the other day when I was reading some short stories by that wonderful writer Paulo Coelho. One story was about an old man who was being harassed by a bunch of young tearaways. They cajoled and threatened him whenever they saw him and generally treated him very badly. Nonetheless he was always polite and kind to them when he saw them, individually or even as a group. Finally one of the gang plucked up the courage to ask the old man why he kept behaving so kindly despite the treatment being meted out by himself and his friends. The old man replied that, You can only give what you have.

I guess if you are suspicious, angry, negative, pessimistic, closed or self-absorbed then this is all you can give. And maybe that is all you get back.

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