A way we can connect with other people is simply to speak to them. Whether friend or stranger, offering a pleasant greeting can make a difference in the attitudes fo both of you for the day.
I walk the streets of my city early in the morning. Few others are out walking or jogging at 5:00 a.m., and they are usually the same people day after day. I speak to everyone I meet—even in darkness.
One person, however, never returns the greeting, and she has been jogging almost daily for over a year. Her ignoring my greeting is somewhat disconcerting, and I see this as a challenge. Some days I change the tone of the greeting simply to see if that might make a difference. On days when it is daylight, I smile and use what I consider a pleasant tone of voice. Nothing has worked. Few things are more insulting than being ignored when you speak to someone. Common courtesy is not always common.
When I walk down a sidewalk and get a pleasant “hello” and a smile in return to my greeting, I have a little more of a spring in my step. Adrian Mitchell says it well: “I want to speak, to sing to total strangers. It’s my way of talking to the world.”
In Cincinnati, several homeless people hold brown cardboard signs asking for money. I’ve never been comfortable with ignoring them, and yet I also wonder if they really are incapable of earning a living and getting on in life. A few years ago I made a decision: I would give each one a dollar. More recently, I decided I would speak, ask their names, shake hands, and wish them well. I’m not sure this has helped them, but this action has certainly enhanced my day.
The responses I receive are varied. Most have a startled look because they are used to being ignored. Ty was a diabetic and needed money for food to avoid getting sick. Jesse wanted to know where I lived. Jake wanted to know my name and had me repeat it. Most smile as I leave.
Whether you greet people in your neighborhood or speak to strangers down on their luck, you will not regret treating humans with grace and respect. As Francis Bacon wrote, “If a man be gracious and courteous to strangers, it shows he is a citizen of the world.”