I’m going to make an effort to smile and say “hello” to people I encounter. What a friendlier, happier community we’d be if we all did that! But first we need to make eye contact, which isn’t always easy.
I hear that studies of behaviour have established we humans have a “need to belong”. But it’s a well-known social rule in busy towns and cities: you do not make eye contact with a stranger in the street or on public transport. Perhaps a friendly greeting – even so much as making eye contact – is mistrusted and seen as a threat in the urban environment. I bet many clever people have analysed this and written lots of words on the subject.
People in busy towns and cities keep their heads down, and the predilection for using phones and tablets at all times gives them an excuse. They’d rather talk to people miles away than say hello to someone in front of them.
I live in Goldsworth Park, a “garden estate” in Woking, Surrey. It’s a relatively small community – more like a village. Wherever you happen to live yourself – whether you know lots of your neighbours or hardly any – when you walk to local shops or other facilities you are more likely to encounter people you know, or recognise people you often see, than in the town.
It may be difficult to start with, but please join me in trying this: try to make eye contact, smile and say hello to people you pass, even if you don’t know them. A simple smile and greeting could be the highlight of that person’s day. They’ll know you noticed them and that they matter. If you’re shy, just make eye contact, smile or nod. You’ll progress to making short observations about the weather in no time – and even make a new friend.
Regardless of whether you play the greeting game yourself, how will you respond if a stranger makes eye contact and greets you with a smile, a cheery “hello”, “morning” or “hi”? Well, smile and return the greeting of course: that person might be me – and I’m only trying to be friendly!