Thinking about generosity to those we know well, including co-workers, teachers and family members, is somewhat different from generosity to those we don’t know. All those folks with whom we have short, often commercial, transactions or encounters: gas station attendants, grocery store clerks, people walking their dogs, or just passers-by in the streets or parking lots. And what of the other drivers on the road, or the other passengers on the train or bus? How can we practice generosity towards them?
The first favor we could do for people we don’t know is to not judge them. Perhaps you don’t do this, but many of us form instant impressions of others in passing. Based on beauty (or not), mode of dress, posture, and grooming, we often have a brief but visceral “like/don’t like” response. If the interaction involves speaking together this reaction may be stronger, though still based on very little information. We might make up a whole story about how unhappy, wicked, amusing or [fill in the blank] they are.
We are all the centers of our own universes, including us. We tend to fit other people into the picture in relation to how we see ourselves. If our theme is “victim”, we’re likely to see others as threatening. If our theme is “incredibly busy person”, we’re likely to see others as holding us up unnecessarily, or “in the way” of what we want to accomplish. This is particularly amplified in driving. I have noticed that when I’m a pedestrian, drivers seem outrageously inconsiderate. When I’m a driver, pedestrians tend to seem oblivious (of ME). It’s purely a matter of perspective.
I try to remember, in spite of these judgmental feelings coming up, that everyone has the same right to respect and courtesy. This is my practice with people I don’t know.
On the positive side, we could imagine the best in everyone we see or meet, as a general policy. We could treat them as if they could turn out to be our friend. How different would the world be if we saw all the people we encountered as potential friends?
Or, we could remember that everyone needs and deserves our compassion. Everyone is suffering in some way, so any kindness we show them is better than callousness or unfriendliness.