People today seem to be lacking a basic, day-to-day connection with those around them. Most of us live in cities so populated that to say “hello” or even smile at others walking by would be a waste of time and energy. Not to mention you’d be the only weirdo doing it. We live in a swarm of individuals, apathetic to the people sitting next to them on the bus solely because we’ve never seen them before and likely, will never see them again. We’ve built walls around ourselves and (this time) we are paying for it as well as the ones on the other side.
Like I said earlier, it is difficult and inconvenient to smile and greet everyone you see in such a busy environment but
when was the last time you struck up a conversation with a cashier at the grocery store? When was the last time you gave a genuine smile to a stranger walking by? The old lady at the bus stop? Surely she’d have some amazing stories and life lessons to share with you, if only you’d ask.
People would be happier if they took the time to connect with others – strangers – on a daily basis. It feels good for both parties involved.
I walked a portion of the Camino de Santiago in May. I was feeling extremely down (for reasons which can be found in a previous post) and I was of the mind that some physical exertion would do me some good. As I started walking and got out of the city Bilbao, the amount of people on my route became less and less. They also seemed to get more and more friendly. A few people helped me find my way, and I was extremely grateful for it. This is when I decided to create my own social experiment (if you could call it that).
I started to smile at everyone walking by. And not just a forced, fake smile but a genuine “Hi! It’s a pleasure to be here on this same planet with you!” kind of smile. It was fun, it made me feel great and I found that, more often than not, I got one of three kinds of reactions.
1: I would get a frown, a look of disapproval or suspicion.
2: No eye-contact. I was totally ignored.
3: An initial frown or quick and brief aversion of the eyes, followed by a beaming smile and a look of surprise.
Reaction #3 was – obviously – by far my favourite. I found it funny that people were taken aback by me smiling! Maybe it’s because I’m a youth and most people in my age range are too busy being self-conscious that we don’t stop to appreciate the folk around us. Maybe, they themselves were so focused inwards that the sudden attention brought them out of their own heads when they weren’t expecting it. Or maybe, being in Northern Spain, it was just cultural.
Either way, I think it’s wrong that people should be shocked by a friendly, genuine smile aimed their way. Ever since that day, I’ve really made an effort to pay more attention to the other human beings inhabiting this world with me. It could be as simple as smiling or asking someone how their day is going (and really meaning it!). Am I making a difference? I am for me. The smiles in return are always warming. The frowns or looks of disapproval now just make me laugh. “How miserable are you that you can’t even smile?” is what I say to myself, while doing the same, simple act that they have just refused to perform.
I’m not saying that I’m right and I’m not saying that I have answers. This is something that’s been on my mind for a while and I wanted to get it in writing and hear what others have to say about it.
I’ve been watching a lot of John Cooper’s videos recently and I think he has some great ideas on the topic and portrays them better than I do:
And lastly, I read a very short story the other day which I think holds an incredibly valuable lesson: learn the cleaning lady’s name. “We will meet many people this week – clients, customers, colleagues, the checkout girl at Publix, the guy at the parking garage toll booth. All are significant. Be on the lookout for Dorothys, quiet leaders and silent heroes. Remember that each person that crosses our path is an opportunity for a touchpoint. Even if it’s just a smile and a hello”
Please post your opinions, comments or tell me about your last memorable interaction with a stranger.