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. : )