My favorite interactions throughout the day are the five-minute conversations with people I’ve never met before or encounter briefly on a daily basis. It may be the guy filling up his car at the gas station next to mine who asked me about my day, the young couple on the train that suggested books for me to read, the barista at Starbucks that knows my order before I step up to the counter and offered to pay the difference when I was short in change, or the boy in my Florida lodge lounge who liked my Beatles t-shirt and ended up becoming a long-distance close friend.
I also love to wave at people, especially people I don’t know. I will stand on a train platform and wave at everyone inside the train as it pulls away. I will stand on a street corner and randomly wave to a person driving by. I walk by restaurants and wave to a person sitting by the window. I don’t know them. They don’t know me. Sometimes they look at me as if I’m hyped up on drugs, and sometimes they look surprised or happy and wave back! Once, a couple close friends and I stood on the Jackson Street bridge in downtown Chicago and waved at all the people stuck in rush hour traffic on the expressway below us. Many people looked up, smiled, and waved back. I was glad we were able to provide a little sunshine in their rough, slow commute. I was in high spirits the rest of the day.
I love these experiences and I really enjoy hearing about them from my friends.
The only problem is, these encounters don’t happen as much as they should.
We tend to ignore unknown faces around us because we are too focused on ourselves.
Our eyes are fixated on the screens of our phones, the signs on the wall, or straight ahead to our destination without making eye contact with the people immediately near us. We are all guilty of this. We don’t notice the sad eyes and smiles in line next to us. We overlook the lonely man in the corner. A quiet foreigner behind you remains ignored. Even when we purchase something, we often ignore the cashier and the exchange is mechanical rather than human.
Put the phone away. Turn it on ‘silent.’ Keep your head up.
Smile and say hello to the next stranger you meet.
Acknowledge their presence.
Ask them how they are.
You have no idea where the conversation may lead. It can influence you, and them, more than you think.
You never know. That group of grungy-looking backpackers eating lunch on the other end of the room may end up being a famous progressive metal band (yes, this happened to a friend of mine). Or maybe that student sitting by the window just needs a little extra attention during a lonely day.
But don’t just stop with one chance meeting.
Do it again with the next person you see.
Make it a habit.