Can I still get a New Year’s resolution post in under the wire? I promise this isn’t about exercising more or being more patient with my kids or taking time to smell the roses or any of that — all of which are perfectly good resolutions, mind you, but they’re things I try to tell myself I’m going to to, like, every week. So it would feel disingenuous to label them New Year’s resolutions.
No, here’s my one and only Official New Year’s Resolution for 2012: To connect more with other people in the world around me.
And by this I mean, specifically, to occasionally smile at someone I pass on the street instead of making every possible effort not to make eye contact. To make friendly chit-chat with a store clerk or cashier. To compliment the woman ahead of me in line at the store on her shoes. (Assuming I like them.) To find a joke to make or a sympathetic look to share with someone I don’t know.
Maybe some of you out there already do this on a regular basis, and you’re thinking: what’s the big deal? But I’m not a naturally extroverted person. I like privacy and alone time and the quiet of my own (consistently brilliant and profound) thoughts. And I live in New England, where people tend to keep to themselves. Yankee self-sufficiency and all. It feels natural to me to be polite but reserved, as I think it does most people.
But, the fact is, unless I’m in a horribly bad mood (or, worse, depressed), I am usually delighted when a stranger goes out of their way to exchange a friendly word or smile with me. It makes me feel like, hey, maybe people really are essentially good. And maybe the world is, on the balance, a pretty great place to live.
Even better, when someone is friendly to me, I feel like passing it on. Just like that insurance commercial. Except that’s Responsibility, not Friendliness. But same basic idea: It’s contagious. A potential chain reaction of nice.
It’s funny. When I’m out and about with the girls, other people — the cashiers, the people waiting in line, the odd passersby — are much more likely to be friendly with me and with them. Alcohol may be the #1 social lubricant, but I think kids come in a close second. Their innocence, their adorableness — it brings out the warmest and kindest in people.
People grin at kids and joke with them and tell them they like their clothes / toys / smile. They give them candy and stickers. The other day, Alastair brought the girls with him to the Post Office and they gave them official Post Office coloring books. I mean, the USPS is on the brink of bankruptcy, but someone is still approving the production and distribution of souvenir coloring books. The power of children, I tell you!
But we’re not nearly as friendly to our fellow grown-ups. Maybe because we think they won’t appreciate it as much as the kids do. Or because we think they don’t deserve it the way kids — blameless, uncorrupted, beautiful — do.
But I think most of us do appreciate it. And we do deserve it.
A few weeks ago, I joked with a tough-looking and obviously bored teenage boy working a a store in the mall, and his face just lit up. The other day, I told a sullen barista at a coffee shop that I liked her hat, and she launched into a story about how she got it, and how she’d had it forever and as she gave me my change said — in a very un-hipster-like fashion — “Have a great day!”
And recently, when the girls were acting up in a sandwich place where we had lunch and the older woman next to us kept giving us the stink-eye, I positively beamed at her. (OK, OK, I guess I was being a little passive aggressive there. I wanted her to feel guilty. But I did it in such a nice way!)
Anyway. In a world (here’s the part where I bring it back around and make a larger social statement) where we increasingly conduct business and transactions and public conversations online, I think it’s doubly important that we make an effort to connect in the flesh, too, even if it’s just in small, simple ways.
It’s not that I think meaningful personal interactions can’t happen in the virtual space; if I did, I wouldn’t write this blog. I wouldn’t spend way too much time on Facebook and Twitter.
But I do feel like we’d do well to remind ourselves and others that there are people out here, typing the words, adding the emoticons, giving things “likes.” And I think maybe if we all did it, the world would be a slightly better place — with more accountability, more forgiveness, more thought toward the common good.
Maybe there would be less road rage. And maybe — do I dare to dream? — our political climate wouldn’t be so nasty and divisive. (Ergo, maybe I wouldn’t have to enact my other, unofficial New Year’s resolution, which is to cover my ears and say “LA LA LA LA LA” anytime I hear anything about the presidential race).
So, I’m pushing myself to be friendlier. Not annoying, mind you. A little dorky, perhaps? Yes. Sure. But I’m OK with that.
Wanna join me?