What is it to be a human being? There are many answers. I find myself attracted to the answer provided by the philosopher Martin Heidegger. A human being is necessarily a being-in-the-world. One of the key characteristics of human worlds is the presence / absence of others. So one can say that a human being is a being-in-the-world-with-others.
What kind of withness characterises the ‘with-others’ for folks living-working in western cities? I invite you to relive your ordinary day and come up with your own answer. Is it primarily detachedness, aloneness even in the midst of others, even indifference? Are not most of the encounters transactional where the feel and form of the encounter would be the same even if the parties to the encounter were replaced by other parties – even automatons lacking soul? Which is to say that the primary character of withness of ‘with-others’ is one of a certain coolness as opposed to the warmth of genuine human relating and human connection.
Some folks, maybe even the majority, are ok with such withness. Some folks even prefer it as it leaves them unencumbered by the demands of other people. Not me. I miss genuine human relating and connectedness. I miss smiling, talking, sharing, laughing with my fellow human beings. I especially miss this when I find myself away from home like I was earlier this week.
Now allow me to introduce Rodolphe Renwart. Here he is at work at Natural Caffe on Boulevard Ansbach in the centre of Brussels.
This week I walked into Natural Caffe and came across Rodolphe. On a cloud dull morning I was looking for someplace quiet, clean, and spacious to get a breakfast. I got exactly that. But that is not the reason that I returned the following day for breakfast.
Why did I return given that there are so many cafes and restaurants in central Brussels and I like to try out new places? I returned because Rodolphe provided that something that few provide. Rodolphe did more than take my order or serve me. He made me feel welcome. He brought me an English newspapers without being asked. He took up my invitation to enter into a conversation. He shared some things about himself like is German ancestory and the way he has been treated when travelling in England. He invited me to return the following morning. And when I did return he recognised me and looked pleased to see me.
It occurs to me that Rodolphe is at home, in his very being, in that cafe ‘dancing’ with customers. Notice, that dancing implies a certain kind of intimacy that is absent in merely serving customers. Put differently, at the cafe, the quality of Rudolphe’s kind of withness with customers is the differentiator.
Why am I sharing this story with you? Because I notice the addiction with data, information systems, and business process redesign. And a neglect of the human – people, conversation, helpfulness, sharing, caring, smiling, laughing…. In a world saturated with the withness of indifference, detachedness, and superficial politeness, some of us yearn for folks like Rodolphe who embody the withness of genuine humanity, warmth, and connection. They leave us feeling good about ourselves and the world. They provide what technology does not provide: genuine hospitality.
I thank you for listening. Until the next time….