Today I pulled a new dress shirt from the bag and wore it. Wrinkles and all.
Then I realized I’d become the living example of a cliche. I’d become the “clean but wrinkly shirt guy”. When you see that guy sitting across from you at a conference or in a coffee shop, you can divine characteristics about his recent activities just based on the wrinkles. He’s probably on a business trip and packed or purchased the new shirt for that specific trip. He woke up too late to pull the iron and board from the hotel closet, set everything up and attack the wrinkles. Too hard! Not enough time! Just put it on and hope nobody will notice!
I’m sure I’ve seen people wearing wrinkly new shirts before, but the fact did not register, because I was ignorant of the connection. I personally had never been in a situation where I was on a business trip with a newly packaged shirt, then woke up too late to engage the iron. There was no experience to tie the two bits of information together – that I was observing someone’s clean but wrinkly shirt, and it was clean and wrinkly in that specific way because their morning had been just like mine.
Experience provides these connections, if you’re paying attention. Sure, you can reconstruct the possible pasts of the people you meet through observation and (if you’re bold) by asking them directly. But experience lets you get to understanding without all that work. The mother with the screaming kids in the grocery store? If you’ve been that mother at some point yourself, her entire day is known to you in a glance. That elderly man who neglected to return his shopping cart to the stack? Perhaps when you’re his age you’ll understand, in a deep and visceral way, the effort required just to make it down to the store.
If you want to build broadband connections to the people around you, whether at work, around town or even with your family, you should do what they do, where and how they do it.
Now whenever I see another wrinkly shirt I’ll know a little more about the person wearing it. I’ll know what to look for, the specific pattern of wrinkles, and how that pattern came to be worn.
Maybe that person will look back at me and smile a knowing smile, because we are wrinkly shirt warriors together. Maybe that person will be you.