At this time of the year we have a bit more downtime than usual, and a few new things to enjoy. We also think about how we can be better in the new year, we make our list of resolutions and make bets with our friends about how long they’ll last.
All these things have collided for me – one of the best pressies I received this year was Brandon Stanton’s incredible collection of stories from his ‘Humans of New York’ mission. It made me realise that being a better human is actually pretty easy, it can happen just by reading this book – it doesn’t take much time, and if you reflect on it enough, you’ll really learn something about yourself, about others, and about how to be better.
What makes this a great book?
Firstly, it’s the perfect choice for downtime because you can start from any page, and read as much or as little as you like. Got 2 minutes? Great! Flick it open and see what you find. Got an hour? Awesome, you’ll get through half the book. It’s a heavy hitter in terms of return on your time investment, because it’s not just pretty pictures about one of the world’s most exciting and charismatic cities, and it’s not just a travel book. This book (and the blog) showcases the humans that make up a city, and the stories are vast and varied.
There are equally as many light-hearted, quirky and childhood perspectives as there are sad and powerful ones, which gives it the perfect balance.
Why should you read it?
The power of a first impression is immense, and your reactions to these stories will surprise you. At first glance you might think you have no interest in a particular character, or even worse, that a certain demographic wouldn’t have anything valuable to say. I was sucked in to each and every story in this book, and realised how first impressions can so easily be blown out of the water in profound and unexpected ways.
You’ll read about how an ordained pastor has changed his attitude towards religion after considering the terrible struggles of so many around the world, how a man relates more to animals than to people, what makes one person love another, how individuals overcome loss and hardship in very different ways.
In short, it’s a lesson in discarding judgment and replacing it with an open attitude. And then a child says he wants to be Iron Man when he grows up, and you realise kids are awesome like that. We should all be a bit more like that kid.
How will it make you a better human?
It is a window into the worlds of others, the perceptions and ideas and attitudes of others. It’s a powerful reminder that every one of us has a story to tell, and that sadly they are often of struggle and sacrifice – the acknowledgment of which should surely lead us to treat strangers with kindness and consideration that is all too often lacking.
How has it made me a better human? It makes me want to be a better human, and that’s a good place to start. It makes me realise how meaningful it is to some people that even an expression of interest in their life is enough to make them feel valued. It makes me realise that some people have it tough – really tough – and it’s not always obvious from the way they look. It makes me realise that people are more approachable than I think – and we don’t need to be afraid to do so. It makes me realise that people want to share, and want to help. It makes me realise there is real humanity out there, and that every one of us could be Brandon Stanton – he just had the balls to do it.
So at this time of the year when we’re all making resolutions about our waistlines and finances and travel plans, why not make it all a little simpler? Let’s be better humans in 2016 – this book could be your first step.