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On Being Boring

I moved from London to Brussels with my husband nearly 10 years ago. When I told people we were moving, the news was greeted with bemusement: why did we want to move to a city that was possibly the most boring place on earth? Ten years later and I can honestly say that I've had more fun here than I ever did living in London. It might not be the most exciting city in the world but it is a fantastic place to live. It is full of hidden treasures that you probably never get to see as a tourist: wonderful shops, amazing food, great museums and galleries, beautiful architecture, a forest (yes, a whole forest), and so much more... And if that doesn't convince you, well, get on a train and you could be in Paris, Amsterdam, Cologne or, yes, London in no more than a couple of hours... Which other city can you say that about?


I know people who will determine your worth based on your accent, who your parents are (or are not), your faith (or lack thereof), your political views, your gender or skin color, your income – or, indeed, some other arbitrary attribute. I also know people (and I can’t decide if this is better or worse), who will just assume you are worthless no matter what. These are the people who hide behind statements such as “you have to earn my respect”.

I’d heard that expression so many times, from so many otherwise reasonable people, that I never really questioned it. I just thought “fair enough”. But you know what? Actually, no, it isn’t. Why should another human being have to earn your respect (and for that matter, why would you assume that your respect is something that they aspire to have? What is so incredibly valuable about your respect that we should all strive to acquire it?)? Why can’t you start from the position that all human beings are worthy of at least a modicum of respect and work from there?

I’m not saying that everyone you’ll ever meet is going to be a fantastic, life-enhancing individual. Not even close. There are some real cases out there. I’m not even going to try to convince you that everyone you meet is going to be interesting (although if we had more time, I might). But I would argue that if we all treated each other with a little more respect, then the world would be a much nicer place to live in.

And it’s not difficult. It takes very little: a smile, holding a door, giving up your seat, paying a compliment, helping someone out (with a few coins, with their heavy cases, whatever), saying please and thank you, apologizing when you bump into someone, making eye contact (yes, even that: acknowledging the existence of another human being – shocking!)… These are all such small, easy things. Why should anyone have to “earn” them from you?

And, by the way, this isn’t just about people who are older than you, or have more money than you, or drive a nicer car. It’s about everyone. From the teenager in the hoody, to the homeless person sitting on a street corner begging for food, to the mother on the plane with a screaming child… Everyone deserves your respect. Everyone. If they then choose to throw it away, well, that’s another matter. But until then, give them a chance. And who knows, they might even turn out to have a story to tell or something (wait for it!) to teach you.

And no, I have no idea where that rant came from. I think I meant to write about something else but I kinda went off on a tangent.

28 March 2012 - 11:19 PM Toni - You're my hero :)

28 March 2012 - 11:34 PM Jenn - I absolutely agree! I've never understood that saying, either. Everyone automatically gets my respect just by virtue of being a fellow human being unless and until they give me reason not to. But, like you said, who says they'll even care? So, yeah, I hear you.

29 March 2012 - 9:55 PM Angie - Very well said! I'm totally with you on this one - I don't even care whether people really MEAN it or not, but please, I want them to be nice.

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