“Good Morning”: A Theory

The random encounter with the grumpy woman in the library got me thinking about the 1998 movie Patch Adams. (For the record, I am in disbelief that this movie is thirteen years old.)

Two things came to mind, actually, but the first is the most relevant to this discussion. It was the scene in which Patch tests out his smile theory, claiming that if we take the time to make eye contact and smile at complete strangers it will nearly always result in a reciprocated smile. As Patch and Truman wander around smiling and greeting strangers, we as viewers smile, too. It’s a good scene, even worth rewatching the whole movie for, and since there are no YouTube clips, you’ll either have to do so, or try to conjure up a memory from thirteen years ago, or trust me.

I like this smile theory, and it won’t surprise you to learn that I now have a “good morning” theory I want to test out.

The question I want to answer is this–if I start saying “good morning” to folks at moments when I would rather just walk on by and ignore them, what percentage of those people would respond with a friendly greeting? I’m banking on at least 75%.

I’ve started testing it out, though not very mathematically, nor very successfully. But I’m working on it.

In fact, I’ve realized something already. There are certain strangers with whom we interact that make it natural and practically required to greet in a friendly “good morning” sort of way. Bank tellers, for instance. In these cases, I’ve adjusted the theory to take it one further step. In the cases where a greeting is already expected, I will ask how the person is doing. And not just in an I-don’t-really-want-to-hear-your-answer sort of way. I’ll look at the person and wait for an answer. Patiently.

I have hit some bumps on the road to testing out the theory, but more on that later.

What I’m hoping for are some other thoughtful theory-testers. Yes. That means you.

Are you willing to try it with me? Say “good morning” to just one stranger today? Or two? Or ten? Or ask the check-out person at the pharmacy how he’s doing–and mean it? Or look someone in the eye even when it’s uncomfortable and smile?

Come on. What have you got to lose?

(By the way, for those of you who were wondering what the “second thing” was I mentioned above, well, it was  that difficult scene towards the end when we discover that Patch’s girlfriend Carin has been murdered by someone she was trying to help. Patch feels guilty about this, because he is the one who “taught her the medicine” that ended up resulting in her death. As I thought about this scene, I realized that the medicine he taught her, despite the film’s focus on humor, was not laughter but love. He taught her how to love.)

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8 comments on ““Good Morning”: A Theory

  1. Craig says:

    I’ll join your good morning army and will let you know how it goes. I usually try to greet strangers anyway when appropriate. After all, if I greeted only those I knew, what would I be doing differently than anyone else?

  2. Gail says:

    Funny you should mention this. A few years back there was a cranky young man who worked with us. It really bothered me to pass him and get either no response or a herumpf. So I decided to think nice thoughts and speak kindly to him. The first several days I worked on my thoughts of not dreading passing him. Then I started greeting him. Soon I purposely added his name. I was amazed that in a few weeks, he would sometimes greet me first and was kind about it. I hope that you experiment goes very, very well for you!

  3. Elaine says:

    As I type, my students in psychology are taking a unit test on the chapter about stress. What struck me from your comments today deal with this chapter also. Our textbook, ‘Psychology: An Exploration’ by Saundra K. Ciccarelli, concludes this chapter with a section on wellness practices. The first is to exercise, but the second is to “get involved with others” (p.335). This could be as simple as spending time with friends, or smiling at someone you don’t know. The rest of the suggestions, in case you care, are to get proper rest, eat healthy foods, have some fun, manage your time, and take some deep breaths.

    My students actually attempted your experiment here at school. They spent a day just randomly smiling at others in the school. With the exception of a very stressed, grumpy office lady who never smiles, they said everyone smiled back. Now, these are all people they know or at least see, but they found this interesting.

    And, as you well know, Brad has always practiced this. He has never met a person anywhere that he hasn’t smiled at or talked to, including toll booth people, who are usually very surprised, and sometimes suspicious. 🙂

  4. Bonnie (Mom) says:

    I’ll be a ‘tester.’ I often say “Good morning”, but like the idea of asking “how are you?” and meaning it and waiting for an answer! I am anxious to see the results of your test!

  5. Tamara says:

    I’m totally, all-the-way IN on this experiment. Next, could come up with a way to show friendliness to other drivers. We have been noticing lately in our town that everyone on the road seems completely cranky, with no grace whatsoever. What could we do about this?

  6. elizabeth says:

    Okay. Wow. First off, I must admit I’m surprised at the quick responses to this post, but I guess it struck a chord. (Struck a nerve? I’m not sure.)

    Craig, Nice. “Good morning army.” I like it, though I’m a little surprised at the military language, considering, well, you. 🙂 Also, you may not want to hear this, but your comment is very Jesus-like. (When he tells his followers to love their enemies, he follows it by saying something like, “Besides, guys, if you only love those who love you, how are you any different than anybody else?”)

    Gail, good example. Grouchy coworkers are good places to test out this theory! The summer I worked at the PA turnpike, I had a similar experience with a woman who had a terrible reputation in the office as being a grouch. It took me nearly all summer of showering kindness on her even when I really didn’t feel like it, but she finally warmed up to me and even gave me a going-away gift. Seriously.

    Elaine, I like these wellness practices. Thanks for sharing! And I’ve definitely seen Brad be extra friendly to the tollboth workers and to, well, just about everyone. He’s a good example.

    Mom, take notes! I’ll be asking you for a full report.

    Tamara, that’s a great question. One solution I have to this, which is really just a solution in trying to fix my own attitude toward other drivers, is when someone speeds by me or is driving aggressively, I say to my husband, “Maybe that person is about to deliver a baby.” 🙂

    Keep me posted, folks!

  7. Craig says:

    I “good-morning’ed” 4 strangers on campus today, and I received a return reply from 100% of them (though one fellow looked at me with an “are you for real” expression before responding). I’m going to keep it up and will report back regularly 🙂

    And I don’t mind sounding Jesus-like. I’m a fan of his work. In any case, I was alluding to Matthew 5.47, which is apropos of our good morning army (and is probably the passage you’re referring to).

    Okay, more updates from the front lines when merited!

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