The other day, I was walking through Toronto's historic Distillery District. This District is a must-see spot for both locals and visitors to Toronto as it features a wide variety of artistic and cultural activities and events; along with a boundless collection of retailers, coffee houses, restaurants and more. All of these beautiful examples of human creativity are housed in heritage buildings that were once the home to the world's largest Distillery. One might say the "spirits" are still very present on site.
While walking through a central courtyard that I have passed through many times before, I came upon a group of tourists admiring the architecture. One small group of tourists had all gathered to photograph something low lying that they all seemed to take great interest in I thought I, too, would take a closer look. What were they all looking at?
To my surprise they had chosen to focus on a simple planter. I immediately thought how strange that amidst all of these heritage buildings, they would choose to focus on this rather ordinary planter. Their focus was so intent, that I thought I should stop and try to see what they were seeing.
This particular planter was nothing out of the ordinary. You might say it was your garden variety planter (pun intended). So why were these tourists snapping photos of it? As I slowed even further, I saw that the flowers were in bloom. I wondered at what point in my life had I seen enough of these particular flowers in bloom that they no longer seemed special or worth my attention or admiration? As I slowed way down to take in the planter, it was like I was seeing the planter with a fresh set of eyes. I was suddenly a tourist within my own life.
Within this planter were several plants that incredibly could grow from seed and bloom in radiant colours. When one thinks about it plainly, some unknown, anonymous human took the time to select this assortment of plants, the planter, the soil and them placed them in this courtyard. I was witnessing simultaneously the beauty and wonder of nature, married with human creativity and curation. Within this simple planter was much to admire and be grateful for and yet, without the intervention and interest of tourists, I would have walked inattentively by it. I would have taken it for granted! I spent the rest of that day trying to remain fully attentive to people and things I normally would not notice, honour or celebrate. As it turns out, I was missing a lot.
Why do we take things for granted? When we were young, everything was a new discovery. We were curious about the world and there were endless things to explore. I suppose at some point many things become so steadily present that we feel that we can count on them being there. Perhaps our sense of curiosity and wonder hits its limits. Whatever the reason, we end up taking so many things and people for granted.
In our private lives, taking things and people for granted can have serious consequences. When we devalue things, we suffer from ingratitude for what we have around us. We need more and we will not have enough until we value what we have. When we devalue people, we either diminish other human beings, reduce their ability to confidently share and contribute, or risk losing these people and relationships. We do not create conditions for each other's success.
Our businesses and entire economic systems are built upon human and physical resources. Without these resources, we have no economy, and we have no business. If we do not value our human resources or colleagues, they will be much less inclined to stay, to step up, to share great ideas or support us in our work (as we should support them in return).
If we fail to value the physical resources used in our businesses, we produce excess waste, design economies that are environmentally devastating, and deplete finite resources in damaging and unsustainable ways.
While I started this voyage with a simple observation about patio flowers, that experience blossomed into an increased awareness about the things and people around us that we might also be taking for granted. Perhaps we all would benefit from more awareness of the wonder and beauty of so many things around us. Every aspect of our lives would be enriched by much more gratitude for what is already there. We are surrounded by miracle and possibilities, if we choose to see them.