I often look around me and wonder how our world has developed into this place of so many disconnected humans. A society in which everyone is so stressed and absorbed in their own lives that they cannot see the people that surround them. Unless you have become part of someone else’s inner circle, it is easy for you to be shut out from their life. Having had the fortune of traveling to different countries throughout my life, I have used the opportunity to observe people’s interactions as they randomly pass each other in public places.
Babies and small children are the most amazing. They have no problem making eye contact and interacting with anyone around them. I love it, when they express themselves freely… and sometimes manage to draw their parents into the here and now as well. I particularly enjoy it, when a parent suddenly becomes aware of a little tongue being extended by the human being in the stroller to be presented to the person across the street. Too bad that this is often accompanied by an embarrassed reaction of the parent.
As we grow older this free interaction of small children, is often interrupted and we are learning to mind our own business and not get too much into somebody else’s space.
I remember being a very insecure and closed off teenager, who had the hardest time looking a stranger in the eye to acknowledge their presence. I would stare at my feet and not look back up until I was sure the person was no longer there. Although I kept telling myself that this was purely for self-protection, I am pretty sure self-esteem and self-value played a major role. I didn’t think I deserved anyone acknowledging me being so close to their personal space. When I was finally ready to look up and make myself seen in the world, I realized that there were many people around, who either stared down like I used to do or who were so much in their own heads that they could simply not see me walking by.
Knowing the loneliness and separation that not being seen can create, I have since made it my mission to coax people into the present moment and their immediate surroundings. In my work environment, for example, many people cross each other in the hallways and on the way to the restroom. Whenever I encounter someone, I put a big smile onto my face. If they are unable to see me through the fog of their own existence, I don’t take it personally. If I get the chance, I will hold the doors open or say hello. My favorite is holding the door open for men, because it seems to go against everything their mom told them. Yet I can see it in their reactions that they don’t mind this courtesy either. Why not hold the door open? We are all humans with a need and desire for some kindness.
Walking on city streets nowadays, I rarely look away. Instead I keep looking at the person walking toward me, even if they are looking down. Human nature seems to make us hyper aware that someone is looking at us. It also seems very hard to ignore. This results in many people looking up. This is my signal to display my brightest smile and either nod or extend a friendly passerby greetings.
I might never exchange another word with this person or even see them again in my life. But I firmly belief that even these little acts of random kindness can have an impact on someone’s day. Particularly, if they are having a rough one.
Wouldn’t it be beautiful, if the simple smile of a stranger could cause a ripple effect of kindness that is passed along to others throughout the day? I am determined to belief that it can, and therefore will continue passing along my smile to whoever is ready to receive it.