If you live in the country or a small town, you almost certainly will notice something when you visit a big city: people don’t smile or greet you as you walk past.
If you live in a big city, chances are that you won’t even notice that it’s missing.
It’s something I notice, particularly as I walk around suburban streets or travel on city buses. Do you notice it too?
As towns and cities become bigger and people become more mobile, we encounter more and more people we don’t know. It’s exacerbated by:
- private motor vehicles that enable us to travel without encountering other people
- a culture that promotes consumption so we work long hours away from home during the day to end the money to fund bigger houses, more stuff and extravagances
- crowded urban areas (think city put paths especially during rush-hour) where there is no time or space to dally.
And yet, smiling and saying ‘hello’ to someone as you pass them in the street is a simple yet very powerful thing to do:
- It takes almost no effort.
- It’s very low risk.
- It connects you to another human being – and humans require other humans to survive.
- It’s a wonderful gesture that can brighten up a person’s day – and it brightens yours too. (Just think: it may be the only nice thing that happens to them that whole day!)
- It empowers you – against all the growing pressures trying to isolate and frighten you.
So, what has been friendly to strangers got to do with living sustainably?
The two main reasons underlying our environmental (and social) problems are:
- lack of connection to and respect for the natural world of which we are apart and on which we depend – otherwise we would not be destroying our only life-support system;
- lack of connection to and respect for our fellow human beings,, present and future – otherwise we would not be destroying the ability of the earth to support humans now and in the future.
We care for people to whom we are connected.
From this it follows that if we connect with other people, if we see them as fellow travellers on the one ‘boat’ rather than as ‘other’, then we are more likely to respect and care for not only them but the ‘boat’ (planet Earth) that we all share.
The simple gesture of a smile with a greeting can make a world of difference to our world – social, physical and biological.
So, when you’re next out in the street, joined me in making the small effort to connect with at least one other person every day – and let me know how you feel afterward!
Till next time…be gentle to yourself and our world!