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On Facebook the other day, a friend described how she said “Good morning” to a passing couple while out on a walk, and the couple looked past her and did not answer. She was hurt, and rightly so; it hurts to be ignored or snubbed. Some of the comments to her post said things like, “Don’t judge—you never know the battles others are going through,” and “maybe the couple had just experienced some horrible trauma and just couldn’t respond” etc.—all valid comments. Nevertheless, I still feel strongly that, when spoken to, it is only polite to smile, to give a nod, or to say, “Hello” in return. It takes little to no effort, but it goes a long way toward civility. It is an acknowledgment of “You exist, I exist, fine.”
I told my friend that I, too, have experienced this phenomenon in our town numerous times. For example, I have been walking on the Quittie Park trail, literally three feet from a young man heading towards me; our eyes met, I said, “Hello.” He stared straight ahead and kept right on walking. Perhaps he was deaf; perhaps he didn’t speak English; perhaps any number of things. Even in the grocery store, I speak to people as I pass if our eyes meet, saying “Good morning,” or a similar greeting, and I have had people stare at me as if I were a Yeti.
I grew up in the Virginia, and in the south, if someone greets you, you greet them back, no matter what type of day you’re having. Experiencing the belligerent stares of others has taken some getting used to.
Three years ago, my family and I drove down to vacation at the Magic Kingdom in Florida. We wound our way down I95 South, stopping at numerous restaurants, rest areas, and gas stations. Everywhere we went, people smiled and started conversations with us about nearly anything. At one point, my son leaned over to me, and said quietly, “Mom, why are all these people talking to us?” I smiled and said, “Because they’re being friendly.” He raised his eyebrows, “Oh. OK.”
A few days later, while we were out on a walk, a car drove by us and the driver waved. My son watched the car drive by and said, “Do you know them?”
I said, “Nope.”
He looked confused. “Then why did they wave?”
I put my arm around him. “Because they’re being friendly. They saw us, we saw them, and they waved, so we waved back. It’s just being polite.”
While this was strange to them at first, my kids eventually began to really like it. It is one of the things I miss the most about living in the south. I’m not saying there aren’t rude people in the south, but on the whole, it has not been my experience.
So, what’s a B-Flat Christian to do? Should I get angry and force people to interact with me? Should I not speak to anyone else, assuming they won’t talk to me, either? Ah, but that would be the easy way out. That way, I’m not hurt because I haven’t let myself be vulnerable.
I’ve thought a lot about it, and I try not to let it bother me anymore. Yet, I refuse to give up, either. If I lock eyes with someone, I still say, “Hello,” or at least, nod my head. If they are having a terrible day, at least they’ve had one person smile and speak a kind word to them.
By the way, look out. I WILL smile at you. I WILL speak to you. And if I know you, I am very, very likely to hug you, too.