Saturday my wife, three year old son and I were walking through the a bustling Hammersmith Underground/Bus Station on our way to a doctor’s appointment. As we passed by the Krispy Kreme kiosk in the middle of the common area our son threw out a random “hello” to a lady buying a sugar filled bag of doughnuts. The lady and the two workers behind the counter stopped what they were doing, looked at our son and each let out a hearty laugh at the little kid doing what people rarely do these days: say a friendly hello to a complete stranger. (No, we don’t want to encourage him to necessarily go around talking to strangers, but you understand what I’m getting at here)
The fact that our little boy was behind this out-of-the-ordinary, pleasure causing occurrence instantly filled me with both immense pride and some measure of sadness. We try to impress upon him the importance of politeness on a daily basis by correct him when he fails to say yes please, thank you and no thank you. But I was surprised by the pride I felt when he demonstrated the ability to brighten someone’s day just by simply saying hello.
The feeling of pride was soon replaced by a little sadness that our lives have become filled with days of people no longer saying hello to strangers without being formally introduced. When did this happen? When did it become a better world for people to simply keep their heads down and avoid greeting others with even a quick hello? Are we so afraid that we might get caught in a brief conversation that will keep us from all that important stuff we’re always rushing to do? We all are guilty of ignoring chances to greet a complete stranger when the opportunities arise on a daily basis. Why is this? Why do we feel it’s completely acceptable to reach out to complete strangers through social media with a friendly hello, but can’t bring ourselves to do it in the offline world anymore?
The story gets better: we continued on our journey toward the exit when the same lady stopped us as we reached the door. She gushed about how our son had been such a bright spot in her day that surely he deserved a chocolate and brightly colored sprinkle covered doughnut. It immediately hit me that as she handed me the bag that not only had she hurried through a busy station to reward a simple hello, but judging by the fact that the doughnut was in a single bag she actually bought it for him and wasn’t just giving him one of hers. (Admission: we don’t often allow our son to partake in such hyperactive downward spiral inducers so we did what all good parents do, we protected him by eating it ourselves).
I guess the lesson I learned is take a chance occasionally and say hello to a complete stranger. It might earn you a doughnut.