My friend Beth posted something on her Facebook page yesterday that went something like, " Why are strangers so surprised when you do something nice?". Great question, but sad. I've started a little experiment of late, I make a point of starting a REAL conversation with people I don't know just because. Not the "how are you?" lame question when you don't really care about the answer. One of my faves is, "How's your day going?". It's revealing to check out the way people respond. Or sometimes, "How's your life?".
I do it when I call restaurants to make reservations, or when I get my coffee at Starbucks. The majority of people have no idea how to answer, and some actually freak a little bit out. But on occasion there will be some who love it, and really want to talk, and engage. From those people I have learned a lot of new things that I would not have otherwise. The sad truth of it is we have lost the art of conversing with people we don't know. I mean real conversing, not the basics that are required to fill an order, reserve a table, or drop off a car for service. Conversation about the world at large, not related to the task at hand.
As the world gets larger, it actually gets smaller if we don't reach out and push our comfort zone, or spend a little extra time connecting with the person next to us. We are losing the opportunity to be exposed to different points of view, or new ways of thinking about life. I do it in line-ups too, and that is the best! The person behind me who I strike up a convo with can't get away. They either love it and we pass the time in ways neither of expected, or they hate it and I am the crazy woman who started talking to them about nothing. Fun!
When I thought about Beth's post yesterday, it took me back to an experience I had earlier this year at a CVS pharmacy, and the collateral damage to people's self esteem this kind of disconnected world we live in can cause. I can't re-create what happened better than just quoting directly from my journal, so here goes:
"Jan. 5, 2009
Tonight at CVS we picked up Pam's Nexium prescription and bought some Christmas ornaments for next year. I saw a security guard that made me sad. She was a white-haired, short, round, overweight woman wearing her jacket with its "American Private Security" with pride. She had on a camo hat, the kind the with fuzzy flaps that come down over the ears. She stood in line in front of us, a one dollar bill in hand to buy a snack pack of fried pork chips.
As she approached the til she spotted a penny on the floor, which she clamped her big boot on and dragged it up to the counter with her. Then she spotted another one, and bent down to pick them both up before heading back outside into the cold night to lean against a lamp post in the parking lot and eat her fried pork chip dinner.
We passed her as we drove away. She dipped her head in a nod to me, then looked away quickly - almost as if she was shielding herself from the painful possibility that I wouldn't acknowledge her back."
How sad. I think it will only continue down this path of disconnectedness, but man oh man it's fun to try and stop the slide.