Am I in your way?

How many times has someone said this to you? "Oh, I'm sorry, am I in your way?"

Long ago, I developed a reply that most people don't expect. Many people recently have noted the "great wisdom" (their words, not mine) in the sentiment.

So here is my reply: "You're not in my way. You may be right where I want to be, but you're never in my way."

What this all comes down to is a sense of self-worth or self-importance.

I recall being in a grocery store once, standing in the middle of a wide open space.  A rather irritated voice from behind me said, "Excuse me!" I obliged and stepped to the side, murmuring an apology. I then noticed that this woman, was by herself, with no cart or shopping basket and had asked me to move out of her way so that she could continue to walk in a straight line instead of walking a half step around me in this wide open space. In her mind, I was in  her way...I was not important enough to step to the side to walk around. That woman had what I would consider an inflated sense of self-importance.

So many times when I hear people say "am I in your way?" I also hear the implication that they do not believe they are important enough to be where there are at that moment.

As a Unitarian Universalist, one of our guiding principles is believing in the inherent worth and dignity of all human beings. Before I became UU, I had an understanding of this concept.

It came to me after I became a parent for the first time.

We would walk into a restaurant, with our beautiful daughter in her car seat, and the host or hostess would almost always ask, "Two and a half?"

I quickly realized how dehumanizing this cutesy question really was. I would calmly reply (most of the time) "No, there's three of us. My daughter is a whole person."

These subtle things that have become commonplace in our language, that we don't even think about are very telling I think.

Think about how many times parents say to their children in public, "That lady wants to get through, get out of the way!" The message the child receives on some level is that they are not important enough to stand or play or exist in the same place someone else might want to be. Are we on some level diminishing our children's sense of self-worth by simple phrases such as these?

One of my office mates has changed her language since being around me. Now she will often preface things by saying, "I know I'm not in your way, but do you need to be here?" (indicating the desk where the office computer is)

Try this small change in your language patterns and see how people respond to you. My experience has been delightful! The message it spreads is one of humbleness with our own sense of self-importance...after all, it may be important for me to be in a particular place at a particular time, but it may be just as important to the person who is where I want to be!

So it helps us remain humble, because we let go of the idea that others need to move a half step to the side, and instead we can be the ones to move a half step to the side. It also helps lift up the people we point this out to. We communicate to them, "Hey! I want to be where you are, but you have just as much right as I do to be here're important too!"

The energy shift in people is amazing when the feel validated by someone in this way. That is why my experience in using this phrase has been delightful!

What are some of the ways you use a simple turn of a phrase or a small gesture to lift up someone or brighten the world around you?