Saturday, 16 May 2009

Human Infection

The other day I was doing the daily lunchtime sandwich ritual with a few dozen other office workers at Marks & Spencer’s. The ritual involves choosing your sandwich, sushi, drink or whatever without saying anything to fellow shoppers, - without even making any eye contact – (keep your eyes down for fear that you might have a human interaction by accident!). Skilled lunchtime shoppers develop extra long, very flexible arms so they can reach round others to the back of the bottom shelf without running the risk of any human engagement!

As this solitary dance was being performed a mother came round the corner followed by her children. A young lad of 4 or so was holding the hand of his toddler brother who in the other hand was carrying (but only just managing) an empty shopping basket.

The toddler was having so much fun, revelling in the experience of shopping, having his own basket and walking with his very own feet! He was laughing and laughing and laughing and laughing! Great big out of control belly laughs! Barely up to my knee, this little one filled the store with his uncontrolled all-encompassing joy!

As he walked past the sandwich counter and along to the far end of the shop his laughter followed him, - and rippling out behind him, so did a very visible human wake. Those introverted office workers lifted their eyes from the floor and smiled. They caught each other’s gaze and smiled. They made ‘how wonderful’ noises to each other, they relaxed, they became human.

A little toddler, living in his moment and experiencing the wonder of life made a difference to the life experience of 30 or 40 people who had just popped out for a sandwich!

I wonder how long it lasted. I’d like to think that this contact with humanity walked back to the various offices with those people. Did they have a better afternoon? Did something rub off on their colleagues? Were they more productive? Of course I don’t know and perhaps I’m just being fanciful, but I can’t believe that an experience so obviously powerful had no impact.

I was left with a reminder of just how powerful happiness can be; how it can change things in an instant. I wonder what difference it would make if we spent as much time working on happiness as we do monitoring performance targets!

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