Today I went walking with my friend over her lunch hour, which was lovely but HOT! (It is summer in Nebraska, after all.) When she had to head back into work, I wanted to pop into the lobby to cool off for a minute in the AC. Approaching the door, we saw there were three women exiting: one holding the door for another with a walker and one bringing up the rear.
I engaged them in chitchat, asking if the AC was working in there because I needed to cool off! All three smiled and engaged with me, commenting on the miserable humidity.
This is a really minor interaction with strangers I will likely never see again.
The alternative, however, as I see it, was to NOT engage, standing off to the side so they could have room to pass through, and (intentional or not) putting pressure on the slow-mover to pick up the pace because people were waiting on her.
She didn’t need that pressure, and we weren’t in a hurry.
There was a report recently on a study done on these sorts of encounters.
The series of experiments showed that those who chose to engage in casual conversation with cashiers, baristas, strangers in the elevator, etc. had improved mood and felt a “greater sense of belonging in their community.”
Reading this reminded me of another incident from earlier this summer. When I attended my friend’s workshops at the International Thespian Festival, I chatted briefly with the university student assigned to the hallway to direct participants as needed. When I walked back into the room, my friend asked, “You make friends everywhere you go, don’t you?” The question took me off guard a bit. Was I now friends with the guy in the hallway? Not really, but I do think both of our days were improved by the mere fact of not ignoring one another.
A while back, I had just parked my car outside a coffee shop in Lincoln and a woman was getting into her car. Her outfit was great, and I told her I loved her style. She beamed, kind of laughed, and told me I had made her day.
I certainly learned this from my parents who engage in casual conversation everywhere they go. Maybe they have days when they don’t feel like it and choose to stay disconnected, but I rather doubt it. They talk to strangers.
Now, to be clear, there are situations when it is not safe to engage. I have felt it. Being a woman, I do not stop to help people on the side of the road. I choose well-lit paths when out alone. On our walk today, my friend was telling me that two women were stalked and there was an attempted attack while they were walking TOGETHER and in the MIDDLE OF THE DAY at Lake Hastings recently.
So I urge you to remain diligent, but also to engage.
Chat with the barista.
Say “bless you” to the stranger who sneezes in the room instead of pretending you didn’t hear it.
Talk with the cashier about how their day is going.
That engagement could be the “butterfly effect” that changes the course of their day.
And THAT may change the course of their month…year…life.