The other day, I asked my friends on Facebook whether they had any wishes as to which uncontroversial topic they’d like me to write about in my Friday Suburban Times column. Some asked for more food topics (I promise, I will sometime soon). One of my friends, German author Bettina Strang (wortstrang.de), suggested a number of quite unusual ideas, one of which made me ponder immediately. “Which three words would you recommend to people?”
The magical number three. The first thing that popped up in me were “Liberté, Egalite, Fraternité”, the slogan for the French Revolution. The trouble is that these words have that violent connotation, and though liberty and egality are two values that I strongly recommend people to own or make their own, fraternity is not a value but more of a bond. And bonds can go dreadfully wrong. How about the German triad “Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit”? Unity and justice and liberty – sound good? What about having an opinion that is different from unity? How about BEING different from others? To me both examples show that though values certainly make a good recommendation to pursue, they only reach this far as political claims. Slogans become chants become empty husks often enough.
I guess, I would recommend something way more personal to people. Three words … “I love you.” One of the classics. If they are meant, they are the most powerful promise between two people. Unfortunately, often enough they are used way too lightly. How many of us in our younger days thought we loved (and maybe did to whatever degree we were capable), but the real love of our life came only later on? How often have you heard these three words yourself?
“I miss you.” Now these are three powerful words. Actually, they tell you about the quality of your relationship. If you tell somebody you miss them, they know that they are loved AND that you want them close by.
“Stay safe.” Sometimes two words are just as powerful. They mean “I love you” and “Come back safe” – two triads! Again, how often do people speak them these days? It has almost become an automatism during the pandemic. An afterthought to our “goodbye”. Almost a magic spell we try to cast.
I watched a mother lift her facial mask in the line at the supermarket, the other day. She quickly leaned into her kid and gave him a kiss. Mask back on.
I see the homeless person lug their cart, the face masked – it doesn’t look like a medical mask but as if the person wouldn’t want to be recognized. Or the one at the I-5 intersection with a hand-written sign “Looking for work”.
I see the home in Steilacoom decked in lights at the end of March. Maybe still Christmas lights for comfort?
The girl at the cash register, mask on, hands flying as they scan product after product, smiling with her eyes, her feet and back probably aching from standing in that cubicle for hours. “Do you have any vouchers?” she makes sure that I get my discount.
The three words I recommend are “I see you.” Better still, make them four. “I could be you.” Because I think that is what our world needs most these days. Empathy. Let’s count our blessings and put ourselves in those different shoes. Let’s treat each other with decency, respect, tenderness. Because we all have the same basic needs. And we all have our dreams. But some of us come by them more easily than others, and sometimes it’s a matter not just of opportunity but of plain luck. “I could be you” – indeed, it would make this world a kinder place.