“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.)