Between drop offs and pick ups, volunteering, and just generally mucking about, I’m at my kids’ school a lot. Each time I watch as students rush through doors with no regard whatsoever as to whether it might slam in the face of the person behind them. I don’t fault them — they’re kids, I’m glad to see them hurling themselves head-first into life — but during the times I’m responsible for the care of these magical creatures, I’ve been testing my newest principle.
It goes a little something like this: If everyone holds the door for the person behind them, we all take on just a little bit of responsibility for the well-being of someone else.
It’s pretty simple, right? By holding the door until the person behind you takes over, you’re making sure that person doesn’t get a nose full of glass. It’s courtesy 101.
That’s the literal principle. It works just as well metaphorically.
When I was a young and relatively penniless student in NYC, I frequented the many museums which suggest a donation in lieu of charging an admission fee. It was common knowledge that you could roam the Metropolitan Museum of Art like the kids in Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler for next to nothing. A quarter in the pot would do. It meant I could skip through the statuary and meander by the Monets and still afford a pot of ramen noodles at the end of the day.
Later, when my not-yet husband and I were not quite penniless but still relatively dollar-less, we started to donate a little bit more, a few dollars here and there. A fiver each.
Now, as adults with children of our own, we’re able to afford the full suggested donation. We don’t have to — we could still walk like Egyptians through the sarcophagi for free — but we do. Because we can afford it. And because for every time we fork over the suggested donation, it means the next young woman who is contemplating ramen noodles vs. a night at the museum can do both.
We’re holding the door open.
My husband and I both benefitted greatly from the social stepping-stones in our lives: Free public education, Pell Grants and student loans, mortgage credits, tax credits, public transportation, a rent-subsidized apartment in Brooklyn. Those stepping-stones got us to where we are now. And now? Now it’s our turn to hold the door open for the next group to come along and take advantage of those opportunities.
Ah, but Dina! I can hear some of you saying. Haven’t you ever held the door and watched people march right through without even saying thank you?? Haven’t you ever gotten stuck holding the door because people stroll right through without a second thought, totally taking advantage of you standing there like a chump?
Sure. And sometimes I even flip them off behind their backs. Sometimes I like to hiss at them. I may even passive aggressively mutter, “You’re welcome!” at their backs. But, in all my forty-some odd years, I’ve never let the door slam in someone’s face. At the end of the day, it’s not worth it just to prove a point.
Sometimes you might get stuck holding the door longer than you think is fair. You pay the suggested donation while someone else who could easily afford it waltzes by the Water Lilies after dropping a buck in the bin. But most of the time — this is important — most of the time the reason you feel like you are stuck holding the door is because it takes some folks a lot longer to get there. Maybe they tripped on the way. Maybe they need help catching up. Maybe they can’t hold the door themselves or for the person behind them.
The young, the poor, the ones just starting out. The ones who need a little help getting there and the ones who need help holding it open. The ones who need a little more time. The ones who need a lot more.
There are always going to be people who take advantage of an open door. There are always going to be folks who feel entitled to walk on through without assuming their little share of social responsibility. But most of the time you release the door to a thank you and the person behind takes over.
You hold the door because someone held it open for you once upon a time. You hold the door because by assuming a little responsibility for the person coming up behind you is how societies function at their best. You hold doors because it’s the right thing to do.
When we pay our fair share — even if that share is more because there is more to begin with — we’re holding a door.
When we invest — in education, in health, in infrastructure for all — we’re holding a door.
So hold the door. Hold it for the young woman who can go home and eat her ramen noodles after a day contemplating Van Gogh. Hold it for the young guy who need a little longer catching you up. Hold it for all the people who are coming up behind you, who deserve, just as much as you, whatever is on the other side. Whether it’s freedom or equality, opportunity or just the sky outside.
Hold the door.
Because some day, you’ll appreciate someone holding it for you once again.
Top photo via Flickr Creative Commons/Rajeev Rajagopalan
This post originally appeared on wineandcheesedoodles.com and is reprinted here with permission.
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Dina Honour is an American writer living with family in Copenhagen, Denmark. Her prizewinning work has appeared in magazines such as Hippocampus and Signature, as well as on popular parenting sites such as Scary Mommy and Your Expat Child. Her first novel, All the Spaces In Between is currently awaiting a forever home. Dina blogs regularly at Wine and Cheese (Doodles), where she regularly observes life at the four-way intersection of parenting, politics, relationships, and living abroad. Find her there, @DinaHonour, or on Facebook