What the Subway Is Teaching Us About Mindfulness

We are living in a world of greater extremes – from important scientific and technological progress on one hand to widening income disparities, severe environmental issues, and human rights injustices on the other.  Amid all this, everyday manners and mindfulness are in danger of regressing.


While we navigate at the intersection of speed, scope and scrutiny, and focus on solving the world’s most pressing problems, we want and need more connection, more transparency, more clarity. We’re at a new paradox of running faster yet finding ourselves out of balance. We can’t seem to find our place in the world, our footing, our purpose.


Our deep desire for fellowship, community and the need to de-stress must explain the extreme popularity of meditation, yoga and mindfulness training. (As a serial spiritualist I’m all in favor of those things.) The World Health Organization states the cost of stress to American businesses is as high as $300 billion.  No wonder yoga in America today is a $27B industry.


Meditation teaches us to be in the moment, to be aware of what’s going on right here, right now – with compassion, grace and patience. While we might meditate more, contemplate more, we’re not necessarily interacting better.

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Is something still missing? With all the emphasis on mindfulness, what about kindness, what about respect for others? This simple idea is disappearing, causing substantial erosion in relationships at every level, both in business and in our personal lives. So much so that the Metropolitan Transit Authority in NYC (the organization that runs the subways and buses, moving millions of passengers each day) is running an ad campaign to remind people of their manners. Mindfulness on the subway. Really?!

To illustrate this in business: a phone call not returned, that offer of a follow-up not forthcoming, a promised e-mail reply that never appears in your in-box. Ignoring the hard conversations, when you have to say “no.”, Is that better? For whom?

The impact of using our busy schedules as an excuse for bad behavior is greater than we think. It reflects poorly on the brand you represent and your personal brand.  It can grind at the other person’s self-esteem and confidence – not to mention their trust in others. And it has the power to vibrate outwards.

Finding your balance is doing the right thing, even the small things.  Small is big. These perceived incidental moments of human connection have more power to influence and engage. It starts with one person on the subway, from the manager to her team, the CEO to the entire company.

The journey starts now.

We are social creatures and are defined by the quality of our engagements. Schedule some time each day for someone else. Call that person back, send the reply, say “no,” or apologize if you need to. Clear things up. Treat others in a way you would like to be treated. It’s called leadership. Making a difference, one person, one interaction at a time. If all of us did just that, imagine what a world it could be. Be good and, without fail, do good. At work, at home, and even on the subway.

 Please share your suggestions for bringing back the art of respect, and mindfulness.

 The Purposeworks is a social change consultancy focused on redefining the way we live and work. We collaborate with leaders and organizations to engage people + purpose as the engine for progressive growth. We’d like to help you create a straight line to investors with some straight talk.