The reason it stuck in my mind is because of the ease of the interaction.I don’t see people interacting with strangers in relaxed ways. Instead, I see furtive glances, withheld smiles, and tense shoulders. It’s as though people are so concerned with being misconstrued, causing offense, or ready to take offense, that we’ve forgotten how to be friendly. Not obnoxious, not flirtatious. Friendly. Sometimes it seems as though people have forgotten how. Either that, or they’re too afraid to try.
I’m a big believer in quick smiles and easy eye contact for a variety of reasons. First of all, it’s courteous and welcoming. Strangers tend to relax when they’re met with signs of friendliness. Conversely, people tend to get tense and defensive when they see people getting tense and defensive around them. It’s the same reason that laughter is contagious and why a smile generally brings a smile in return. Generally.
Unfortunately, too many of us are ruled by fear. Fear that our kindness will be viewed as weakness. Fear that our compliments will be interpreted as flirtation. Fear that our smiles will be misconstrued as an invitation for unwanted behavior.
Our fear causes us to second guess our friendly impulses and to be suspicious of the friendly impulses of others.
Sure, we live in a dangerous society. And yes, many people do use smiles and friendly words to manipulate and harass the innocent. This is an unfortunate fact. But how much more unfortunate will it be if we allow these hurtful people to steal our good nature?
It is possible to be aware and cautious while still being friendly. In fact, the more capable we are at protecting ourselves, physically and emotionally, the more secure we will feel. And secure, confident people can afford to be friendly!
That’s why my interaction with the construction worker was so significant. In that moment, neither of us was governed by fear. He had something nice to say, and so he said it. He didn’t worry about being misconstrued. He didn’t even seem concerned about his choice of words—I know a lot of women who would have been “mighty” insulted by being told they looked “mighty good.” But I wasn’t. I took his compliment in the spirit that it was given and thanked him for it.
His reaction was the other thing that made the encounter significant. My enthusiastic thanks brought a huge response. It made him really happy. It was as though he had been given a rare gift. He, who had given the compliment, looked as though he had received one. Was appreciation that rare a commodity? Was friendly courtesy really so uncommon that an enthusiastic “thank you” could make such an impact?
I hope not. Because if that were true, it would mean that fear was winning. And that would be sad.
Kindness needs appreciation to grow. If we want our world to be a happier, friendlier place, we’re going to have to find the courage to make it so.
Oddly enough, the more equipped we are to deal with obnoxious behavior and violent actions, the more secure we will feel about being friendly. Capability breeds confidence, and confidence will keep our rational fears from becoming unreasonable.
So how did my encounter with the homespun construction worker end?
I power-walked my way toward the trailhead, and he drove his pickup toward parts unknown.
That was it. No fear, no frustration, no indignation. No discomfort of any kind. Just a positive, uplifting encounter between humans.
I have a lot of those. How about you?