By Irena Djuric

Today I heard something drop as a woman was getting out of her car. I couldn’t see what it was that had fallen to the ground, but being someone who’s always dropping things – my cell phone mostly – I lingered to make sure she picked it up.

When she started walking away, I said, “You know you dropped something, right?”

“Yes, yes, it’s OK, it’s OK, thank you,” she said and started walking away.

I looked over the curb and realized that it was a pop can.

There was a garbage can two feet away, so I picked up the pop can and tossed it in the garbage. Embarrassed or flustered, I think, the woman said “Oh, thank you, thank you,” as I turned to walk away.

I hadn’t intended to embarrass her, but I wasn’t above picking the can up after having accidentally pointed out her careless toss. The more I though about it as I walked away, the more I wish that I had said something to her, kindly, like an older sister or a thoughtful teacher might. I wanted to say, “We should take care of what we have.”

I remember reading somewhere that babies, up to a certain age, cannot discern where they end and the rest of the world begins. They are intimately connected to every motion, word, and flash of world around them. When one baby in a room cries, all the babies in the room cry. It is as if to say, “If you’re hurting, I am hurting. If you are sick, I am sick.” It’s a shame that we lose this sense of interconnectedness so quickly. How would the world be if we were more conscious of how the energy we extend to others and to our surroundings affected everyone that came in contact with it?

Perhaps if we still saw the world that way, the woman I encountered today would have understood that the can on the ground between me and her was more than just a tin scrap on a sidewalk. It was a direct disrespect to the world, a declaration of carelessness, an unspoken belief that when she walked away and could no longer see it, it would cease to exist.

I once had the good fortune to sit with Ela Gandhi, granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi, in her cozy dining room, munching her fresh-baked cookies. We were discussing the topic of violence and non-violence for a documentary project that I had been involved with. Ela said many things that afternoon, as I diligently scratched them into my yellow notepad. I’ve forgotten much of what she said that day, but over the years there has been one thought that has stayed with me and grown more and more powerful over time. I hear it now even more clearly than I did back in her dining room, and paraphrase here:

People think of violence as blood, as destruction. They think that violence is when I reach out and hit you. But you can’t think of violence in only that way, you must consider it holistically. We are violent not only towards each other, but towards ourselves and towards the earth as well. If you throw your cigarette stub on the street, you have committed an act of violence against the earth. If you put something unhealthy into your body, you have committed an act of violence against yourself. Every action that radiates out from you and causes harm – every action like that, no matter who it’s directed towards, is an act of violence.