What I saw in a coffee shop that broke my heart

I’ve been thinking about that Eleanor Roosevelt quote lately. Especially the part about, “To handle others, use your heart.”

It happened just the other day. I was in a local coffee shop, enjoying a decaf mocha and doodling in my sketchbook.

There were two women seated across from me. They were sipping their coffee, chatting and laughing.

The door to the coffee shop opened, and a short woman carrying her laptop strolled in. As she walked past, the women across from me stopped talking. They both watched the woman walk by, observing her closely.

When the woman with the laptop reached the counter to place her order, the other two women leaned in close to one another. One whispered something into the ear of the other, and they both chuckled. It looked to me like they knew the woman who walked in.

The woman with the laptop was friendly and gracious with the barista, thanking him for her coffee drink. She made her way to a seat, opened her computer, and began reading. At one point, she dropped her napkin on the floor.

The other two women laughed at this, and started whispering to one another again. Clearly, they were gossiping about the woman with the laptop.

The worst part was, the woman with the laptop knew it. She could tell the women were staring and talking about her.

Video of your life

Imagine if you had a small camera attached to your shirt, televising your every move. Now imagine the ones you love watching this video of your life. Perhaps your children, spouse, parents or closest friends. Would you be proud of what they saw?

I have a wonderful, framed quote that hangs in my home. It’s attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt. Whether or not she’s the author, the words ring true to me. It says:

“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people. Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself. To handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart. Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart.”

Kindness and love

It broke my heart, that day in the coffee shop. Why do people have to be cruel to one another? Why can’t they listen to their better angels?

Both the women across from me in the coffee shop were attractive and well dressed. Yet, they seemed ugly and unkind to me. I contrasted their behavior with the elderly gentleman I saw in the coffee shop a few weeks ago.

Artwork by John P. Weiss

The old guy held the door for people when he walked in, and when he left. He took the time to talk to a woman and her young daughter, making them both laugh. The old gent exuded kindness and love.

Kindness and love. Two things we could use a lot more of these day. They cost nothing to give, but enrich others in so many ways.

Use your heart

I’ve been thinking about that Eleanor Roosevelt quote lately. Especially the part about, “To handle others, use your heart.”

I’m not proud to admit that I’ve gossiped about people in the past. I think we all have at one time or another. But here’s the deal. Doing the right thing, consistently, takes practice. We have to be more mindful of it.

Ever since that day in the coffee shop, I’ve tried to be more attentive to my own behavior. If I beat someone to the coffee shop door, I surprise them by holding it open, so they can enter first.

I send letters to friends, just because. I make a point of chatting with the grocery store cashier, and always say thanks for the help.

If each of us practiced kindness a bit more, think how much that would improve our lives, and the lives of people around us.

Imagine that video camera on your chest. What would your life video say about you?

My hope is that this essay will inspire you to embrace the best in yourself, so that we won’t have as many broken hearts in coffee shops.

Before you go

I’m John P. Weiss. I paint, draw cartoons and write about life. Thanks for reading!

This article first appeared on Medium.