Yesterday I had two people completely ignore me when I said “Good morning” to them. The most reasonable excuse is that neither heard me, but I was having one of those days when I wanted to respond by getting right in their faces and saying, “I’m having a bad day, too! Get over yourself!”
I didn’t, of course. Instead, I went into Starbucks and greeted a custodian, who offered a smile and a friendly response. She seemed delighted that I had stopped and asked her how she was instead of just breezing by her on my way to the bathroom.
Most of the time, regardless of whom we greet, a “Good morning” elicits a response of some shape or form, even if it is just a smile. And, in my experience, a “How are you?” (if an answer is waited for patiently) elicits a “Fine” at the very least, and often–very often–a reciprocal query about my well-being or day.
But getting ignored yesterday morning got me to thinking, and as is typical of me, I’ve begun to theorize about it.
Here’s a generalization that I think holds true for us as average Americans:
There are two categories of people that we ignore on a regular basis. The first is people like us. The second is people not like us.
One of the purposes of the “Good morning” exercise is to break us out of the habit of ignoring people, regardless of which category they fall into.
Here’s something interesting. In my experience so far, the people I am most likely not to receive a response from are from that first category of people–those like me.
And the people with whom I am most likely to have an extended conversation as a result of my greeting are those unlike me.
Consider this example.
This morning I encountered a uniformed worker of some sort in the library bathroom. I couldn’t tell if she was a custodial worker or a security guard, but I think security of some kind. Regardless, she would fall into the category of “those unlike me.” Remember that I am someone who gets paid to go to school. I get paid to do research and chat with people about stuff they’ve written. I pick and choose my freelance projects, and I feel fortunate to have the amount of work I want to do, when I want to do it. Most of the time I complain about this situation, but let’s just say, I am nearly as spoiled as they come.
This woman, I would venture a guess, does not have these privileges I complain about.
When she came into the bathroom, I was thinking solely about myself, how fluffy my hair looked this morning, to be precise, and I wasn’t in much of a mood to be friendly. But I thought a “good morning” would suffice to fulfill my obligation to a stranger in close proximity to myself, and what was the chance I’d get much more than a quick response? Well, what is the chance?
“I’m SO EXCITED!” was not the expected response. (She held out the word “excited” in a sing-songy way, the sort of way I do it when I am really excited.)
I paused and looked at her. For real? Or was she pulling my chain like the airport security guy, and when I questioned her, she would just say, “No, not really.”
Nope, she actually looked excited. I thought it was sincere. So I said, “Really? Why?”
“I’m leaving for vacation tomorrow! I can’t wait! And I only work a half-day today! I can hardly focus on my work!” (Let me emphasize that the exclamation points do not do justice to how excited this woman was about her upcoming vacation.)
She had apparently only come into the bathroom to wash her hands, so she was already headed back to the door by this time. When I said goodbye to her and wished her a good trip, I was genuinely delighted for her, this woman unlike me.
And yet, of course, like me.
Because that’s the moral of this story.