“Dad, why do you say hello to everyone?”
My son shot this question to me during our recent vacation. His inquiry sprang from a genuine curiosity, and not the more typical teenage fare of, “Why are you so embarrassing, father 1?”
It was a good question, and I was happy my son noticed my practice of greeting people as they pass by. These greetings aren’t much more than a “good morning” or “How ya doing 2?” But the sentiment is important. As people pass by I am intentional in acknowledging them as people, and not as generic obstacles who might be between me and my destination.
This type of acknowledgement is not something which is a natural result of my psychological make up. People drain me, and I have an instinctive ability to sense how much of my mental and emotional energy will be drained by people who impose themselves on my psyche. But I also recognize the need to be present for other people, and the impact such a presence has on the world around me. And this awareness comprised my answer to my son’s question.
“I say hello because a little kindness in the world goes a long way.”
I’ve seen this impact with my own eyes. It always amazes me to come into a retail establishment, for example, and meet someone who looks drained and tired and unhappy 3. But when I say, “hello,” and ask how they are doing, most workers’ faces brighten as they reply with the culturally acceptable response, “I’m well, thank you 4.”
And, yes, this is a behavior I have had to train myself to practice. A revelation my son found fascinating, as it gave him hope to develop his own social graces 5. I am not a nice person, and never will be. But I strive to be kind, because people in this world are in desperate need of genuine kindness.
- That’s my daughter’s job. ↩
- That’s Philadelphian for, “Hello.” ↩
- And given the way retail workers are treated in our “bottom line” world, who can blame them? ↩
- Occasionally I’ll also meet someone who is struggling and will take the opening to share their current dilemma, which offers opportunities for interesting conversation. Even more rare I’ll meet Eeyore. I feel bad, but I usually back away slowly from this last type of person. ↩
- Truth be told, he’s more socially acclimated in his teen years than I am in my forties. ↩