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Friday, December 26, 2014

A Social Experiment

I started off my week with a Monday-morning doctor's appointment. It was one of those fasting-so-we-can-do-blood-work visits, so I scheduled it at a fairly reasonable time. By the time everything was over and done with, both Trent and I were famished, starved, and otherwise hungry. Since we had several things to do before we headed home, we decided to stop at a fast-food establishment before going to the grocery store. I am vastly in favor of eating before grocery shopping. If you go to the store hungry, you'll be likely to come home with half a dozen bags of snack foods that you buy just because you're so hungry you could happily eat the wrappers as well as the contents.

Anyway, we were sitting and eating our breakfast and planning out the various stops we would make along the way. I happened to look up at just the moment when a gentleman who was waiting while his food was being prepared happened to look in my direction. Without thinking, I said, "Hi! How are you doing today?" His face brightened as he smiled and said that he was doing well, how was I? I sort of quoted my friend Julie and said that if we were all still upright and taking nourishment, we were doing okay. He took his food and went on his way with a little smile on his face.

I told Trent that I was sad at some of the ways in which the world has changed. When we were younger, people greeted one another everywhere they went. Smiles might be exchanged, or a nod of the head or a tip of a man's hat. Pleasantries as simple as comments about the unseasonable weather or a simple "Good day to you," were briefly given, and the parties went on their way. Nowadays, though, it seems as though everyone tries to live in a bubble. They stand in line at a store and update their Facebook feed (I actually saw this happen this week), or they rush through their daily travels, trying not to make eye contact, or any human contact, for that matter. 

As I said to one of my friends, it's almost like everyone thinks they are living in New York City. This is not meant as an insult. People who live in places that are very densely populated, like NYC, have to sort of cocoon themselves in order to not burn out from sensory overload. With that seeming detachment, they can still be alone when they are surrounded by millions of other people. That is not to say that people in NYC are cold or distant. When I was there I saw some of the kindest, most caring people you could ever hope to meet. I still think fondly of the woman who helped my friend and I when we weren't sure if we were taking the correct subway. Yes, you might know that you need to catch it on a particular street to get from Point A to Point B, but if you are on the wrong side of the station, you'll soon be far from where you want to be. This lady said that yes, this was the train we needed, so we waited. A minute or two later, she was back. "Girls, this is the wrong track. Follow me." This New Yorker didn't simply tell us where we needed to be, she took the time to take us there. That's the sort of thing that's often missing these days, I think.

After Trent and I finished our breakfast and had moved on to grocery shopping, Trent showed that he is the wonderful person I know him to be. As a lady walked past where I was waiting while Trent looked at something, he said, "Hi there! How are you doing today?" She looked surprised, but in a wonderful way. She said that she was doing very well, and thanked him for asking. We chatted briefly, and all three of us continued our shopping with smiles on our faces. 

We had to make other stops at various places over the course of the first few days of this week, and kept up with our "great social experiment." We have spoken with people at banks, restaurants, shops, and supermarkets. Our chats have been with people of all sizes, ages, abilities, and hues. When we had to go into our incredibly crowded supermarket the day before Christmas, it helped us not to get overwhelmed by the throngs of shoppers. We discussed whether a youngster was ready for Santa to come, and may have been among the few who acknowledged the gentleman in a motorized wheelchair. It was great. 

So I guess Trent and I have started a two-person revolution. We are going to try to make sure that we don't act like everyone around us is invisible. We won't be pushy, and we aren't trying to make everyone we see be our new best friend. But making someone happy simply because you said hi feels really good. So for now, we're willing to try to change the world, one smile at a time.