How often do we wish a stranger well? I’m not talking about your colleagues or your classmates. I’m talking about the person walking past you in the grocery store. The person next to you in the locker room, or maybe the person next to you right now.
While traveling through Dallas, Tx., we came across a rather chipper-looking gentleman while shopping at one of the stores who was staring in our direction. His smile stood out like a sore thumb. At first I thought, ‘does this guy recognize us from somewhere?’ And I’m sure my sister was thinking something too. As he got close to passing right by us he simply said, “have a nice day!” This stood out to me. It stood out to my sister. Did we think it was odd? I would be lying if I said no.
Have we developed into a society where it’s weird when a stranger is friendly to us? Although our community has come a long way when it comes to things like technology and human rights, can we really same the same thing about interpersonal communication? And if we are someone who enjoys being personable, whenever we do come across an extra friendly stranger, we carry them with us. But this should really be a way of life.
It’s a little strange that these days our minds are trained to think that if a person goes out of their way to wish us a good day, we either (A) think they are hitting on us, or (B) think they are just…. different. Some people might even think strange or even annoying and bothersome. The truth is they aren’t strange, they’re just rare. The only thing strange is the fact that they’ll probably be the only one that day, maybe even that week, who will do that.
So why is this? I have an old colleague who would say that she feels she can be somewhat closed-off when it comes to people she doesn’t know because of her upbringing. “My mom stopped showing me affection when I was seven, and I’m sure that has something to do with it,” she explained. Another reason could be if you’re an only child. Perhaps you’re not used to growing up around someone your age? Maybe someone can be anti-social if they grew up in a small town or had to make a transition from a small community, where they saw the same people everyday, to a large one.
I went to the same small catholic school for nine years. I was in the same class with the same kids every year. There were probably a total of no more than 200 kids. So when it came time to go to a public high school (well over 5,000 students), let’s just say it was quite an adjustment and not easy for me. I learned a lot.
One sad reason is technology. How many people do you see looking down at their phones? I’ll be honest, sometimes when I don’t want someone to talk to me, I’ll avoid eye contact. Phones help make this happen, and I’m not proud of that. Technology is a blessing, but make no mistake, it can be a curse too, if we allow it.
We are millennials. We’re a generation known for innovation and efficiency, but we should never be known for being the generation buried in our phones. The majority of people who are extraordinarily friendly to their fellow strangers are from an older generation, at least that is what I have found. And chances are it’s because they were once in a world where all they depended on was eye contact and personal conversations.
Another reason is quite simple and probably the most common: We’re afraid.
This doesn’t mean we should be best friends with anyone who wants to have a conversation. Always keep your guard up and follow your gut instinct. Of course there’s a reason why our parents told us, “don’t talk to strangers,” but that doesn’t mean we have to stiffen up every time someone at the grocery store tells us to have a good day.
When I went running last weekend, I must have passed over two dozen runners, and one runner in particular said “good job!” and gave me a quick fist-pump. I still think about him a lot. This isn’t to knock down all the other focused runners I passed by, this is simply a testament to the fact that when someone goes out of their way to be kind and friendly to us, we remember it.
Have you ever heard of the 15-five rule? When you see someone 15 ft. away, make eye contact with them, when you hit five ft., greet them. This is something The Marriott uses to train its employees about being personable. Perhaps we ought to give this a shot in our everyday lives.
Only 2% of our life conversations are with strangers.
Be careful, for if we pass by every stranger like an unread book on a shelf, we will never know what we may have missed. And try not to judge a book by it’s cover, because everyone has a story.