Let us always meet each other with a smile, for the smile is the beginning of love and once we begin to love each other naturally we want to do something. Mother Teresa
At the end of 2002 I moved to Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city of 1.5 million people. I came from living in small affable towns and cities before that. What struck me first about moving around the city was that many people did not engage. On the street or taking public transport many people just wouldn’t look you in the eye.
A guide to non-engaging street walking:
- Walk down the street.
- When you notice someone coming the other way towards you, look straight ahead while the person is not within eye contact range (preferably at some random point beyond the approaching stranger). Make sure to have a blank look on your face, or if you must have a semi-smile ensure you match it with a faraway look in your eyes. This is best secured by reducing blinks per minute.
- When the approaching stranger is within eye-contact range, look away. Keep looking away.
- Once the stranger is almost alongside you look ahead again. Eye contact is now doubtful, and virtually impossible if you kept a blank or faraway look on your face.
- Phew, awkwardness adverted!
I’m grateful for many sociable friends. The kind you can who make new acquaintances and friends feel at ease. We’re friendly walkers and runners who try and acknowledge people walking by with a hello or at least a smile. For some reason it seems more polite to do this when exercising.
But I’ve realised lately that I’ve not always been as approachable or friendly. I’ve found it easier to put my guard up. And while I may feel approachable and friendly on the inside. I’ve taken a look in the mirror and have been shocked that sometimes my blank expression might even look grumpy to others. Sure life hasn’t always been easy, and I’ve not always felt like smiling. Sometimes I’ve felt like I’m skinless and need to put up a wall to guard myself. But I’ve started to wonder whether that wall keeps out people I would love to know and adventures I’d love to have.
My commute to work may have become the perfect time to catch up on social media, to read articles posted on Twitter and organise meet ups with friends. But having my head buried in my phone cuts me off from those sitting right next to me on the bus, and those I pass on the street. So I’m resolving to smile more.
I’m purposefully looking to engage with the familiar strangers on my commute. And recognise that a room full of strangers in an emergency waiting room are people I could set a little more at ease through light conversation.
I’m looking for opportunities to extend the hand of community in the forgotten daily rhythyms. And to bring a touch of peace and care in warm hellos. Who knows what adventures and friendships a smile might unfold.