Paul Butler: Walking to work

Paul Butler

Why do some people wearing face masks seem even more miserable? It’s as if this pandemic gives them an excuse to avoid eye-contact; cross the street or do a 180 and, with a spring in their step, scurry away from you.

Have you also noticed others are friendlier than ever? It’s as if this situation has amped up their internal power and now, they’re even more contagiously upbeat?

This health crisis is making miserable people more miserable, and joyful people more joyful. I guess pressure always squeezes out what’s within.

What is it that’s so deep down within our engines that drives us to travel on the track of misery and pessimism or the track of joyfulness and optimism?

This is most evident in the workplace. Do you remember back in the day when we used to actually go to a workplace and put our shoulder to the plow right alongside our coworkers? Remember when we used to meet in those places called “break rooms” and “boardrooms”? Do you recall how we used to hang out at the water cooler or coffee pot? Those were the days.

As you glance back, do you recall how some people were hard at work even though they didn’t seem to do any? Do you remember how others emanated a light and, in doing so, you felt like you were receiving a gift when in their presence?

Some people at work are so ungrateful, embittered, caustic and so entrenched in their own negativity, it makes you wonder how they make any worthwhile contribution to the good of the organization.

It must be difficult for them to keep this level of misery up at home, so they head out for a walk. That’s when we meet them. The walkways have become today’s break room, boardroom, water cooler and coffee pot.

Such individuals are those we see sauntering around wearing a massive mask when there’s no one close to them. They’re the ones who frown even though the sun is shining. They’re the only people who think the words: “Good morning” actually mean: “May I pass on coronavirus to you?” — even when you offer a welcome salutation, way across the other side of a very wide two-way street.

On the other hand, do you recall how some people at work were so upbeat, so positive, so solution-orientated you wanted to hug them all the time — back when it was socially acceptable to do so? You loved working with these people — they were the great listeners, the offerers of ideas and the encouragers.

When I see these people on the paseos, their energy is enviable — they love people, so it’s heartbreaking for them to have all this distance between us. They, too, wear masks as required, but they don’t use them as an excuse to hide themselves like Mr. and Mrs. Miserable do.

George Orwell wrote: “By the time you leave this earth, you have the face you deserve” and I agree with his sentiment. It’s the micro-decisions we make in every moment about what we say or don’t say — what we do or don’t do — that forms the furrows on our faces or lifts the corner of our lips. We have this one beautiful opportunity at this precious predicament called “life” — be it at home, at play or at work. We do, ultimately, make our choices and then our choices make us.

So, if I see you on the paseos of Valencia, I’ll be able to spot which side of the street you live on metaphorically by either your 180-degree sidestep while tightening your facemask, or by the voluminous virtual hugs you offer.

I know co-workers are dreading returning to work with the former but will rejoice to re-engage with the latter on the day when we can go back to our old normal.

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