Incremental change, radical results

Generally speaking, I travel the same path to work every day. Three-fourths of my commute to work takes place in my car; the remaining quarter of my journey in to the office is done on foot. During that final section of travel via walking, I typically pass by the same people. Morning after morning I see the same faces; yet often I find that an opportunity for interpersonal connection is missed – and sometimes even avoided.
People avert their eyes, turn their head, or suddenly become “busy” pretending to try to locate an item in a purse or bag… It’s kind of sad.

So about six months ago, I intentionally started making eye contact with people, and giving them a small-yet-kind smile as our paths crossed. Not too much to make them nervous or worried, just enough to (hopefully) note a casual “Hey there – good morning.” For the first solid month of my daily offered exchange, people ignored me. Just straight up, flat out pretended like they didn’t even see me or my smile – behaved like I totally wasn’t even there. No problem. Smiling is free. I continued on with it.

During the second month of my daily eye-contact/smiling routine, a few people began actually looking at me – but they seemed confused. I could tell they were trying to puzzle together if they should know me or something…. like, had we met before somewhere?
Had we been introduced at a party or a meeting or something, and they had forgotten me? Had they been terribly rude these past 30 days? Were they supposed to recognize me?
I let the people think whatever they were thinking, and just kept on meeting their eyes with mine, and smiling.

Into the third month of this daily adventure, a few people actually began sheepishly smiling back at me. Their smiles were quick, tight, and a bit cautious, but they yielded upturned corners of mouths nonetheless. I responded to these people’s timid grins with big smiles of my own. Nice.

By the time we all entered the fourth month, some people had grown more comfortable with a daily smile greeting, and became more bold. They smiled back at me warmly once I initiated a grin. Their eyes even held mine for a second or so before turning away. Cool.

Into the fifth month, a handful of people were really getting into this deal. They were starting to open up, and would smile at me proactively – to which I would smile back with absolute delight. Wow!

At the sixth month mark, a small number of people took our interaction a step further, and would not only look me in the eye and smile at me, but would even also give me a little head nod, or mumble a barely audible “morning” – and then wait to see if I would respond. (I always do.) Fantastic.

Which brings us to this morning. This morning, I was walking in to the office, doing the usual smiling deal, when one man not only looked at me and smiled, but also waved at me, and greeted me with a very enthusiastic “Hello!”

Holy crap! I was honestly taken aback; for once *I* didn’t know exactly how to respond. I blinked, then came to my senses, then smiled broadly and returned his greeting with a “Hello!” of my own. Holy crap – how incredible!

Some people might say, “Wow, it took six months of daily action to get someone to give you a greeting – that doesn’t sound very positive to me…”. My perspective is that the six months were going to occur anyway; why not try to make them a little more pleasant or peaceful? Seeing the evolution of this little social “experiment” fills me with a lot of hope and joy; and today’s greeting was tremendous. My non-acceptance of individually-imposed social isolation will continue on. Expect eye contact from me if our paths should happen to cross – and if you smile, I promise to smile back. : )


About Stef

A "serious" gal who is trying to remember to lighten up and smile.
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13 Responses to Incremental change, radical results

  1. Bill says:

    This post made me smile. 🙂


  2. Touch2Touch says:

    I know from experience how difficult this is, but I gave up before even one month was over. You really have the kind of persistence that can make ANYTHING happen. Saludos, amiga!


    • Stef says:

      Aw, thanks! I think if I were seeing different people every day it would actually be harder (like, if I did it in a grocery store where the people were always different from one attempt to another). The fact that I saw the *same* people day, after day, after day, made them seem more “familiar” to me – and so I was more willing to keep at it, I guess. And yeah, sometimes I can be a little pesky, too. 😉


  3. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
    Good work. 😉


  4. Jaxie says:

    I really enjoyed this story. It brought to my memory of a similar experience. I am (was) a touching kind of person, that is i had no reservation in touching someone on the shoulder, or even knee if we were sitting beside one another engaged in conversation.

    On one such time, while talking to someone on a public bus, I touched the person’s knee. They responded by touching my knee back.

    It was the weirdest feeling. I smiled because I know that touch can be healing…but it occurred that I might have been violating the personal space of some. I do not touch anymore unless I really really know the person, or ask before I do.


    • Stef says:

      I am not a touching kind of person – and while I’ve grown accustomed to some people being “touchers” (and therefore not being offended when they put their hands on me), it still always takes me aback a bit. Interesting for you to experience the receiving end of a touch exchange; and cool for you to be able to tap in to that experience, really be present for it, and learn about it from a fresh POV.


  5. Hanna says:

    This is so beautiful that I shall re-blog this :).


  6. Pingback: Wherever you go, there you are | Smile, kiddo.

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