While walking to work yesterday, I was caught off guard when a woman walking in the opposite direction randomly smiled and waved at me. I spent the following ten minutes trying to figure out why a stranger had acknowledged me in this way, taking into account every aspect of my appearance, especially my recently dyed hair and even the smile I had also been wearing. However, despite by best deductions, I could not figure out why that woman had decided to be so openly warm and friendly in such a big city.
After a prolonged time of thinking, what occurred to me is that this situation was a test of my daily expectations. Since the smile was most likely a moment of spontaneity, my expectations were shaken and I was not sure how to react, despite the nice surprise a stolen second of kindness caused. The big question I had to ask myself, though, was: Why is kindness and warmth so unexpected in public places? Have we been so desensitized to human contact beyond our own associations that strangers have become just beyond our reach? Does unsolicited optimism scare us? There are many questions that can be raised from a small wave and smile, but the strongest question you can ask would be: is there a way we can see beyond these expectations and embrace the small instances of the unexplained?
1. Don’t see yourself as in a bubble, but within a web of human contact. If you don’t just view yourself as your own contained sphere, you’re more likely to exert an air of friendliness and see the world in a different way. Walking through a big city or a crowded area can feel intimidating and it’s tempting to want to tune everything out as you maneuver through the madness, but keeping your sights open and approachable can make the experience much more rewarding. Just smiling at a stranger and not being so within yourself can make someone else’s day better, even possibly your own!
I was talking to a friend in the office about this topic yesterday and she informed me of a story from the 1970’s that correlates with my thoughts. I found the story referenced in this article, as well as many other scenarios with similar commentary. There was a man intent on committing suicide by jumping off of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and he wrote in his suicide note that if on his way to the bridge, one person smiled at him, he wouldn’t go through with it. Unfortunately, no one payed him any attention and he ended up jumping to his death. This is seriously one of the saddest scenarios that I’ve ever heard, which confirms that small gestures like smiles and acknowledging others can mean more than you realize. You never really know what is going on in people’s heads and kindness can be the catalyst to their inner pain, especially if they think that no one cares about them.
2. Keep your manners in check, even in a crowded area. Saying “thank you” when someone opens the door for you is always a common courtesy. If you don’t like people cutting in front of you, try to be conscious of others as you run to your destination. It may be hard to realize what you are doing when you are running late somewhere or trying to catch a train, but it can be important sometimes to think of the image you project outward to the world. The calm, collected person you see yourself as might not be the image you present to others on your way out the door! Try leaving room for someone to sit next to you on the bus or give up your space in line at the grocery store to a mother struggling with her child. You never know how much of an impact you can make until you open yourself up to the possibilities!
3. Try to do one act of kindness a day. Even if you are just calling a family member on a whim or giving one of your friends a small gift that reminds you of them, the effort you make to connect with people won’t go unnoticed. There is a common quote that says, “Don’t frown because someone might be falling in love with your smile.” As I said before, a simple gesture like a smile in someone’s direction or surrounding your presence with a bit of optimistic energy can work wonders, as others can feel what you project! If you present yourself as a friendly person with an air of self confidence, running into unexpected situations doesn’t seem so scary or daunting!
4. Keep an open mind about people. Just as you are not supposed to judge a book by its cover, it isn’t a smart idea to judge a person based on your first impression of them. There is common phrase that says, “In order to have a friend, you have to be a friend.” If you go into a new situation thinking that you don’t want to meet anyone new, then you are not being open to the possibilities of friendship. In my experience, the times I didn’t expect to meet someone fantastic, it just happened. For example, one of my newest and now closest friends came up to me and introduced herself on a whim. Once we started talking, we realized that we had an insane connection and a ton in common. After only a few months, it became second nature to confide in her and now we basically talk every day, even though we don’t live near each other. You just never know what opportunities for human connection are out there unless you put yourself out there and are open to meeting new people!
5. Embrace your true self. If you don’t have confidence in who you are as a person, then it can be very hard to break out of your shell and take advantage of all of the opportunities that life presents you. Once you have your own sense of self and can radiate that to others, the possibilities of the world seem much more attainable! The most important lesson to learn in life is to focus on others, yet also make sure that you are doing the right things for you. By learning to embrace the presence of others and people in different walks of life, you are opening yourself up to what the world is about: communication and human connection. Once you have yourself figured out, projecting that to others makes you all the more interesting. Plus, you never know: your smile could be changing someone else’s view of the world!
Embracing the unknown can seem like an impossible task, especially if you are not used to it. However, by taking it upon yourself to throw caution to the wind and take risks, within reason, there is so much to be explored in this world. Just like the man who was looking for a smile within a sea of people on the Golden Gate Bridge, all any of us are searching for is recognition and acknowledgment from the rest of the world. By learning to compromise uncertainty and being open to all situations, you have the ability to gain confidence in yourself as well as inspire the same in others. Put your best foot forward and keep the optimism alive – you never know who you could affect!