In every society, there are different levels of existence; a group of individuals that share common income, housing and way of life in general. It is often referred to as a ‘class system’ ranging in rank from ‘poor’ to the ‘wealthy’—and now the possibility of being ‘stupid rich’. In every ‘class’ there are certain types of families that fit neatly into their proper pigeonholes which makes it easy for people to identify others that are lesser, equal or superior to themselves.
Every day in life, when friends and family come in contact, they display obvious sights of recognition. Names are called out, excitement fills voices and other greetings are exchanged.
However, this liberation of speech and emotion becomes restrained when encountering passer-bys, street traffic— those people that exist too, even if they don’t know you do. In small neighborhoods, everyone knows your name; from the clerk at the post offices to the cashier at the grocery store—don’t even get me started on malls. Unfortunately, this can also lead to less pleasant results, such as rumors that warrant a bad reputation and way more drama and bullshit from the headlines of the all-knowing gossip rags at the check-out line combined.
The point is, there used to be a time when hats were tipped as two men crossed paths, and luncheons were served with tea, sandwiches and possibly a game of cards. It’s not so much that the gatherings don’t happen any more, and as mentioned, familiars will easily say hello to one another in passing, no matter how briefly. This same courtesy used to be extended towards other smiling faces as a friendly gesture that surely dates back to some ancient era. No doubt society in general has vastly changed since then, with violence and hostility on the rise. Suspicion, paranoia; fear of the unknown has led us to be more cautious even when the random person does say hello, a tidal wave of thought automatically over-analyze the greeting, turning the situation into more than what it is.
Ask yourself when was the last time you smiled at some you didn’t know, just because it was polite, friendly, and a sign you meant no harm? Have you ever tipped your hat, or even nodded? Do people even understand the significance of such gestures?
What is referred to as the ‘nod ‘is a rare phenomenon and quite frankly something that we need to do more of.
The first time it happened to me, I was in the mall [surprise] and spotted a young man in black boots, green flight jacket and blue jeans with close cropped hair approaching. For an instant that has remained in memory all these years later, our eyes met, and he gave a single not. Of course I returned the gesture, and we continued in opposite directions; nothing more. Since then, there have been numerous random moments where people will extend a greeting or some other form of physical communication that states I am friendly.
Whether the lack of recognition is due to the absence of respect—after all, if unfamiliar with a person, why give them the privilege—or going back to fear of the unknown, the fact remains that we make ourselves unapproachable and appear to be what we may not be to the image we project to others [intentional or not.] Have we become so ignorant that we hate what we don’t know because it’s far easier than to make an effort to unfold the mystery? The resounding, disturbing, embarrassing and shameful answer is ‘yes’, tho the question of why opens a whole slew of responds that lead to complicated and heated arguments.
Personally, I find it a bit disappointing when my smiles are not returned. Who are you to be so rude? Then again, when the shoe is on the other foot, there have been instances when ‘hello’ is called out, it’s met by silence, as I am uncomfortable in vocalizing a response. Such is not always the case; it’s instinct that dictates the nature of the situation. Call it what you will, but I am not shy to admit the fault. I am at least making an effort to change the behavior. Something had to happen in order to have it change in the first place It’s that amazing thing called evolution, which sometimes seems to take a step or three in the wrong direction. I believe that changing myself will influence others to do the same, and yet I have to be prepared for those who resist or refuse to participate. That’s okay, because I probably didn’t want to know you anyway, and frankly, if I did, I’d most likely get bored of you quickly.
In the end, we will always gravitate towards what is familiar, and yet somehow a ‘nod’ has become lost to all the other social bullshit that has replaced it. You don’t know what you could be missing.
[This article was originally published in Issue 1 of Alive On the Inside, copyright 2005]