The invisible, the ‘others’ and you

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 10, 2017 – 12:00am

Waiters, waitresses, cooks, salesladies, security guards, maids, houseboys, delivery people, drivers, street vendors, garbage collectors, and the like are like invisible people.

They work for us, do services that benefit us and yet we hardly interact with them on a really personal level. They can be replaced by other people and it would hardly matter to many of us. Sometimes we may take notice, but it would hardly affect many of us.

We interact with them only because of the services they do. They are appreciated and needed for the functions they offer. But we are not interested in knowing more about them for the most part. It is a simple interaction that we have with them and we like to keep it that way.

They cook our meals, serve our food, wash our clothes, clean our houses, guard our properties, take our orders, check on our health, pick up our garbage, assist us in the way they are supposed to.

Sometimes, I try to imagine the lives of the invisible people in our midst. Surely, they have lives just like we do although perhaps different. But like us, they have families, people they love and care for. There are also people who love them. Like us, they have opinions shaped by their education, upbringing, etc. They also have their own dreams and live their own stories. They also go through pain, seek pleasures in life like we do. They wake up every day to do what they have to do.

When you think about it, there is so much to know about them.

When we are with people we do not know, or people who are different from us, we often put them in a category of “other.” We feel safe by doing that. We don’t have to relate in a complicated way. Expectations are minimal. We don’t need to have elaborate relationships that are physical, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual. That’s okay. Maybe it is not even possible to have elaborate and deep relationships with all people.

Is there a right way to treat the “others” and the invisible? Some of us opt to be purely business-like. Some of us, perhaps because we perceive them as lower on the social ladder, may opt to treat them in less civil ways. Many people can be condescending at times, especially when they demand that the job be done in a certain way.

I often make small talk with strangers. It can get interesting. Sometimes, they may say something that connects or resonates with me, or vice versa. Recently, a waiter at a restaurant in Tagaytay asked me if I remember APO’s gig in Surigao during the ’80s. He told me he was the driver who brought us from our hotel to the concert venue and back.

I lit up. I mentioned how it seemed like only yesterday when the show happened and marveled at how people can meet again after so many years under entirely different circumstances. I asked him how he ended up working in Tagaytay. He said he needed a higher paying job and so went to Manila and eventually was transferred by his boss to another restaurant he owned in Tagaytay.

That little conversation gave me a bigger handle on him. He wasn’t just a nameless, faceless waiter. He was someone who had served me once before and was serving me again years later, and I had not even noticed this until he talked to me.

When he brought the food in, he was smiling and I felt that it was not just a routine activity he was doing. He exuded positivity and heart. He felt he was doing something special. He was especially attentive to us and served our every need. When we had settled the bill, we even posed for selfies.

Once on a plane, I sat with a lady who in the middle of the flight struck up a conversation and told me that she reads my column in Philippine STAR every week. It made my day.

I have hosted five dinners for groups of total strangers. I invited them at random through social media. These people whom I had never met have affirmed to me that it is okay to allow “others” to enter your life and allow human interactions to happen. I heard their secrets, ambitions, disappointments and joys in life. I shared mine, too. I saw good, decent, even exciting people. It strengthened my belief that every life is indeed interesting and worth examining.

By allowing ourselves to look at the invisible and the “others” beyond the services or functions they offer, we open ourselves to having more faith in mankind. We begin to develop more compassion for others we do not know personally. We go beyond mere self-identity and find our bigger self identified with the rest of humanity.

It can only be good for the world.