“Good Morning” Update: Two Categories of People

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.

“Good Morning”: Stories #2, 3, 4 & 5

Here are a handful of amusing stories from my  “good morning” campaign so far:

The first time I decided to try out the theory was last week when I was visiting my parents in Pennsylvania. It was one of those days that I was pretending to be a runner, so I decided that if I passed anyone on my jog, I would greet that person in an exceptionally friendly manner. I got about two blocks away when voila! a woman, a little boy, and a dog approached on the other side of the street. “Good morning!” I yelled. “Good morning,” came the reply. And then, as I looked a little bit closer, trying to decide if I should continue the conversation, both the woman and I realized at the same moment that we knew each other. Yes. She wasn’t a stranger at all, actually, but one of my stepmom’s closest friends. Apparently she works near there and happened to be out for a stroll.

Alas.

Then, the next morning, I decided to be friendly as I went through airport security. “Good morning,” I said to the security guard as I handed him my ID and boarding pass. (No matter how many times I do this, I always have an irrational fear Continue reading

“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.)

“Good Morning”: Story #1

A few days ago, as I was about to enter the library stairwell at the University where I work, I saw a short, stout, white-haired, grumpy-looking woman leaning on a cane. (I include “grumpy-looking” as an adjective because it is important to the story.)

Now, in general, you should know something about me: I often say hello to strangers. Part of the reason I do this is, quite frankly, because I realize that my instinct is just the opposite–to avoid saying hello to strangers. Based on what I see all around me, I am pretty sure it’s the instinct of most folks these days. I blame it, in part, on the fear-mongering of the mass media, those folks who think it’s more important to make us fear our neighbors, especially the less fortune ones, than reach out to them. I could rant about this for quite some time, but I will refrain. My point is that I recognize my own anxiety regarding strangers and am working to combat it by reaching out in the most basic of ways–saying “Hello.”

Or, in the case of the grumpy-looking woman, “Good morning.”

When I did, she turned and looked at me and her entire demeanor changed. Her eyes lit up, she stood up a little higher, she smiled, and then she echoed my greeting: “Good morning.” Continue reading

Why I Do (Not) Run

I keep promising myself that when I start taking running seriously, I’ll buy myself a new pair of running shoes.

Mine, embarrassingly, aren’t even “running” shoes. They’re cross-trainers or something like that. The rubber is worn through on the outside edges at the bottom because my arches are high, and cloth that is supposed to cushion my right ankle bone is torn and haggard.

But until I run a little more seriously, I tell myself, until I run more often and run further, until I actually start to like running, I shouldn’t invest in a good pair of running shoes.

That is hogwash.

I will never like running. It is not fun. I don’t like to sweat or have burning lungs. It hurts. Every time.

And yet this morning, I found myself standing in the kitchen asking myself, Self, are you going to drink that pot of coffee with fancy creamer you bought on sale at the grocery store or are you going to go for a run?

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Shaming the Cat-Callers: Another “Good Morning” Story

I’m categorizing this as a story of the “good morning” campaign variety, though it doesn’t involve saying “good morning” to anyone. It does, however, involve talking to perfect strangers. As an additional sidenote, I need to confess that I am hesitant to write about this story, since my intentions during the interaction were not exactly pure. But I decided to go ahead with it because it’s an interesting twist on the “good morning” stories I’ve been telling.

A book I had received a few weeks ago through an inter-library loan was due back this week, and returning it in a timely fashion required me to drive to the Nearest Big City, where I go to school. Let’s just say that driving twenty minutes down, parking, walking to the library, and then driving twenty minutes back, all for the sake of a book I didn’t enjoy reading that much, did not put me in the best of moods. Then, I discovered upon arriving that my parking pass was no longer valid since the semester was technically over, and I had to pay for parking. This did not add to the beneficence of my mood.

After returning the book, I headed to my office, where I intended to clear out my desk in hopes of actually motivating myself to finish my graduate degree. En route to my office, I walked by four young men in polo-shirt uniforms, apparently on a smoke break of sorts, lounging outside one of the buildings. (I say “of sorts” because smoking is not allowed on this university’s campus.)

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Difficult Customers & The Green Button: A “Good Morning” Follow-Up

I haven’t mentioned the “Good Morning” project in awhile. Though I’ve continued to address perfect strangers in the midst of everyday interactions, I have not been keeping track in any mathematical way or charting my results. Still, overall, I think my original theory and the follow-up hold true. In general people do respond well when you treat them like human beings, especially those people with whom it is most socially unacceptable to interact with as human beings.

And now, of course, I’m about to tell you a story.

This morning, I went on a shopping excursion. A certain store (rhymes with “Bowls”) sends out ten-dollars-off-anything-in-the-store cards, and I had one. Intending to use it for a few gift purchases, I drove the two miles or so “across town” and meandered aimlessly through the store, somewhat in awe of all the shiny, new stuff.

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