Part of the trip was business and the other part was pleasure – all pleasure. Being able to be present for Greg to defend his PhD was a highlight of my life. Greg’s defense was on Friday. On Saturday, I had been invited to Cara’s family’s home, situated about forty-five minutes outside of London to join in a celebration for Greg. While I’d been to ‘the farm’ several times previously, I had always driven there with Jim, or with Greg and Cara. Being a typical passenger, I had mostly simply enjoyed the beauty of the southwestern Ontario countryside and hadn’t paid much attention to road names or signs. I knew the general direction, but on every other trip I’d made to the farm, we had left from Greg and Cara’s place. This time I would be leaving from London.
Before heading off, I make a stop at a beautiful greenhouse and gift shop, situated right at the edge of the city. I had been there before and loved it. This time I was hoping to find a little something I could take for Sharon and Dan, Cara’s parents, to thank them for hosting me and for hosting our celebratory dinner.
My trustworthy GPS led me to the greenhouse and I found what I was looking for. As I was paying, I thought it might be a good idea to ask the girls at the cash register, what might be the quickest way for me to get to Highway 402. I figured the girls might know a better route than the one the GPS was showing. I was also thinking that there was a little town, Komoka, that I had been through many times before and since it was on the way to the highway, once I got there, I’d have my bearings. So, as they were looking on their computer for the highway, I suggested they just tell me how to get to Komoka and I could find my way from there.
They each looked at me with a blank expression. I was a bit confused. I was pretty sure I had the name of the town correct. And I was also pretty sure it wasn’t much more than about a five-kilometre drive from where we were. (Full disclosure: It turns out the distance is closer to 9km than 5km)
I’ve never heard of it, was the honest reply of one. The others agreed. Between us, we found Komoka on their map and they were able to steer me out the door with ‘good enough’ simple instructions to Komoka, which hopefully would lead me to the highway and then to the farm.
This entire interaction was short, really pleasant, and ultimately helpful. I arrived at the farm in one piece and relatively unflustered!
Over the past week, I’ve been thinking about that interaction. Komoka was so nearby to the greenhouse and yet the three people I spoke to there had never heard of it.
I was raised on a farm so my circle of community was larger than it might have been had I been raised in an inner city. Even so, it stopped me in my tracks to realize even though I might know more about the geography of my five-kilometre circle, in many, many parts of my life, I’m sorry to admit I live in a bubble that is much smaller than five-kilometre bubble.
So many of us surround ourselves with familiar people, places and things. We’ve created a small circle around ourselves, stretching oh, about five kilometres in any direction, that contains not only our family and friends, but also our familiar go-to spots, our hobbies, our thoughts, our opinions, our beliefs, and our worldviews.
When we stay inside our little five-kilometre circle, we never have to challenge ourselves. Since we carefully, over time, create our circle ourselves, we don’t even notice that we have selectively eliminated many, many discomforts from it. We’ve eliminated the need to hear opinions that may challenge our own. We’ve eliminated experiences that have the potential to grow us as people. We’ve eliminated opportunities to not be ‘right’, but to just be.
Back in Calgary this week, Jim and I were returning home one evening and exited a main road to stop at our grocery store (yes, the one I’m most familiar and comfortable with). Once we were on the off ramp, we could see flashing police lights ahead. We assumed we would be detained due to motor vehicle incident. We drew up alongside a police cruiser, and stopped at the red light. To our amazement, there was no accident. The young police officer was out of his car and he was walking toward what appeared to be a homeless person. We could not hear or see the exchange. What we did witness, was after a few words, the two men shook hands. The Calgary police officer returned to his cruiser and turned off the flashing lights. The other man, eating the homemade sandwich the officer had given him, crossed the street in front of us, head held just a bit higher than I suspect it had been when the officer first arrived.
The life of living on the streets is far, far out of my five-kilometre circle of comfort. It may have been out of the circle of comfort of the officer too. But he chose to go there. He chose, not because he had to, to take the time to create an interaction neither of those men may ever otherwise have had. The twenty or so metres he walked was not even close to getting out of his geographical five-kilometre circle, but he bridged an infinite distance of connection. It was humbling to watch.
I’ve been thinking of ways to stretch my circle. Driving alone to the farm was a miniscule beginning. I’m thinking it’s time to make some sandwiches. Mine will not look like those of the officer, but hopefully they will be just as open-minded, as nourishing, as connecting and as kind.
My inquiry for you this week is, ‘How big is this circle?’
Elizabeth is a certified professional Leadership Coach, and the owner of Critchley Coaching. She is the founder and president of the Canadian charity, RDL Building Hope Society. She works with corporations, non-profits and the public sector, providing leadership coaching. She creates and facilitates custom workshops for all sizes of groups. She has particular expertise in facilitating Strategic Plans for organizations. Contact Elizabeth to learn how to grow your circle.