I had dinner with my friend, Carey, the other night. We live in the same building here in the South Bronx. I was telling Carey about my morning walks to St. Mary’s Park and how I say hello to pretty much everyone I walk by, and that they say hello back.
“Oh,” said Carey in response, “I’m too shy to say hello to strangers.”
Her response took me aback.
Carey, like me, is a white woman who grew up with many unearned privileges. She is educated and successful. And I know that she cares deeply about helping others in this neighborhood. So the fact that Carey feels too shy to say hello struck me as strange.
What enables me to say hello to people I don’t know?
It boils down to two things:
First, when I walk to the park in the morning, I go roughly at the same time and I take the same path day after day. Gradually, over time, the people I pass become familiar. I recognize them and they recognize me. So after a while, they lose their ‘stranger-ness.’
Second, I always look at people’s faces and if they catch my eye, I say hello. Sometimes I say hello even if they don’t. But I always say hello if they do.
What’s so important about saying hello to strangers?
That little greeting day after day creates a bond that develops over time into heartwarming acceptance.
In that brief moment, we acknowledge our shared humanity. Whether or not we speak the same language or are the same color, age or size, we connect — if just for a few seconds. And in that greeting, we recognize essential ways we are the same.
Every morning when I get home from the park, having greeted dozens of people, I feel whole and happy to be part of a community of fellow human beings who, when given an opportunity, respond to a friendly hello in kind.
Imagine Saying Hello to Strangers without Being Shy
When you pass someone you don’t know on the sidewalk today, imagine what it would be like to look at them and say hello. How does that make you feel? What holds you back? Are you too shy? Or are you afraid that they’ll mistake your intentions? If you’re fearful, try saying hello to someone who seems perfectly safe. See how it makes you feel.
Share your thoughts about interacting with strangers below, or come on over to Facebook and leave your comment there.
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