Smile. It Won’t Hurt

We spent this past Sunday at the zoo. It was cloudy and the heat is finally fading away, plus it was the last weekend before school started and we hadn’t made it there once this summer. The kids wanted to ride the train, which goes around the zoo in a loop that’s just under two miles long. Since the train is steam and crosses several pedestrian areas, it is wonderfully noisy with its chuffing engine and warning high-pitched whistles. People can’t help but watch it go by, and a handful would wave as we went by.

Later, we were walking between exhibits and heard the train coming. Aitch stopped to watch it and I suggested she wave to the passengers. As she did, a few on board waved back, but not many. Doodicus asked why we should wave; we didn’t know anybody on board, and I was struck by his question. I told him briefly how decades ago, everyone waved or acknowledged a fellow human being if they crossed paths. A hundred years ago, men politely doffed their hats out of respect to the women passing by and at the minimum, made eye contact out of polite acknowledgement with the men. Then I said, “People have simply become so rude.”

The media has picked up on a story of an airline losing a ten-year-old girl and how the company couldn’t have been less indifferent if the girl had simply been a forgotten jacket. Not only had the airline acted as if it had been some lost inanimate object, but I read the comments by people who felt it was somehow the parents’ fault for entrusting the airline with their daughter even though it’s a service they not only offer, but get paid extra for doing so. Not only have we become more standoffish, some people have just become dicks and companies like this airline (United Airlines, for what’s it worth) ultimately reward ambiguous treatment of fellow human beings because it saves resources, i.e. money.

When DID we become so…numb…towards each other; so void of empathy? What ever happened to the simple nod; the one-finger-off-the-steering-wheel wave; the SMILE? We are more connected to humanity then we have been in the history of man – digitally, but it has made us also the most disconnected interpersonally, keeping everyone and everything that can bring us happiness at arm’s length, because it, too, might bring us pain. Smile. Acknowledge. Can it really hurt THAT much?

6 thoughts on “Smile. It Won’t Hurt”

  1. It is a sad state. I agree wtih the person who said that maybe if peolpe were more friendly and open there would be less shootings in theaters, etc. We are a society of “running scared”. I read somewhere that the per capita number of murders, kidnappings, etc is actually down, but we act as if every person out there is going to murder us, our kids, or more. Makes me sad.

  2. I can’t tell you how often I think about this; literally every run I make sure I smile and say “good morning” to the people I see, even give them a friendly smile and wave when they are across the street. And I observe their reactions and wonder why it is so hard to make a connection with another human being. I call it my “little kindness.” It’s my theory that the more we do this, the happier we all will be, and the less likely we are to have people shoot up movie theaters. Pretty simplistic, I know, but it scares me sometimes how disconnected we are from other humans.

  3. Reading this post reminds me of my first job at a federal government building which had long empty hallways. Whenever someone walked down the hall, you could hear them no matter how far away they were. There was no way to miss that someone was in the hallway. I was eager to meet new people and make new friends but found that only one or two people would acknowledge me when they passed me in the hallway. I would smile and say hello and most of the time would be completely ignored. Often they would pick up the pace and escape back into their labs as fast as they could. I was and still am an introvert and can feel incredibly anxious when talking to new people. Or even not so new people. So it wasn’t easy to say hi to people, especially when their response was to ignore you. But, for whatever reason, I kept at it on and off and then one day, someone I had sporadically but consistently said hello to for at least a few months, maybe close to a year, but who had ignored all of my acknowledgements suddenly smiled back and started talking. We stood there in the hallway and talked. I was shocked. But after that, I resolved to say hi to everyone in the hallway every time I saw them. This happened repeatedly over the 5+ years I worked there. Someone new would arrive, I would say hi, be ignored for weeks or months and then one day they would start talking to me. I got to know some great people who later became great friends that way. So, no, I don’t believe smiling hurts! 🙂

  4. Interesting…My husband & I just bought a house (congested NYC block) this past winter. We only say hi to the neighbors if they are right in front of our faces. We aren’t the only bad guys, no one came by to introduce themselves when we were moving in. Correction, one curmudgeon yelled that our garbage bag blew over to his property & that we should know to weigh them down bc we live at the beach. Jerk. We didn’t attend the annual summer block party. My husband is anti-social & I’m very shy. I do smile when people cross my path. 🙂

  5. People around here are surprisingly friendly. And I was at my sister’s recently, in a suburb of Chicago, and people not only greeted me, some even stopped to have a conversation with me. Maybe part of it was that I had a little kid and a dog with me – when I walk near my mom’s condo 10 minutes away, people do the city look-through and don’t even smile or say hi. We wave at the train at the zoo…and at the mall. We even have an oil change place in the town where I work where, if the workers aren’t busy, they go out to the road and wave to the passing cars. I guess it just depends on where you are?

  6. And now we know why you were researching “doffed.”

    I honestly believe that the insurance mentality (protect your stuff) and the safety mentality have had a huge negative impact on culture. We’re taught from childhood to be weary of other people. We have to be cautious of thieves and kidnappers and worse at all times. When that is the message being conveyed to children there’s little wonder that the result is this culture of strangers that barely interact in person. Don’t get me wrong, there are bad people and we do need to be weary of them, but, I really wonder if our ways are working. My grandpa was “turned out” every morning when he was 5, and told not to come back without enough squirrels to feed the family. His mother gave him a small rifle (NOT a BB gun, a rifle) and a knife to take out with him. He was not worried about meeting bad people while he was out. He was not worried about being kidnapped or having his things stolen. I cannot imagine for one second letting Connor out of the yard, let alone into “the wilderness,” with weapons. Connor is a very dependent little kid… and he’s very standoff’ish and aloof with other people. I wonder if he’d be that way if his culture were different.

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