I was at a friend's house the other day and was struck by the fact that he's way more considerate than me. He re-filled people's water glasses without asking when they were empty, handed me a box of tissues when I sneezed - nothing huge, just a series of small, helpful gestures that I probably wouldn't do unless prompted.
The obvious element of being considerate-ness is nice-ness - wanting to make someone's day a bit easier and being willing to do it. But watching this friend, I realised there are two other elements that don't get talked about much.
2. Energy levels - I think some people's bar for standing up and doing a tiny task is just lower than others. Some people save up all their tiny tasks till they can't avoid it, then go rinse their plate, get a drink of water and recycle the junkmail all at once. Other people jump and do what needs to be done as soon as it occurs to them to do it. I think a lot of that has to do with energy levels (obviously people with chronic fatigue, or just temporary fatigue, are not gonna jump up every few seconds), but I think also some people have an irrational optimising tendency which makes it seem 'wasteful' to get up only to do one thing.
3. Situational awareness - you can't refill someone's water glass if you don't notice it's empty. Or, say, notice when someone is clearly failing to find the cupboard they need in your kitchen, so you can tell them where the sugar is stored. I think this is the big one I'm missing. I drop and break stuff moderately often, and I'm not actually that clumsy, I just don't really look where I'm putting stuff, I stack things in unstable ways because I'm not paying attention.
So yeah, being considerate is not just about having the desire to do nice things - you also need to be aware of your surroundings and picking up on people's cues, and have the energy to act on the urge to help.
This piece was originally published in The Whippet #36 – subscribe to get the next one in your inbox!
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