Along the way you notice that one girl from your 10:30 a.m. class. Beth is her name, right? Oh yeah, she had that great question in class today I thought was hilarious. As she gets closer, you take a quick glance to see if she is looking, and then you look away because you made eye contact. Both of you continue walking as if nothing ever happened. You ask yourself, “Why didn’t I at least say, ‘hi?’”
These types of encounters might not be common, but they happen. We pass by hundreds of people throughout the course of one day. Some we know very well, some we will never know. Gustavus is a great campus because it’s small and that’s the way I like it. However, with a small campus comes familiar faces. And that’s good news, right?
If you don’t know a particular person that you may be passing, then you’re most likely not going to say hi or do much of anything. If you pass by someone you do know, on the other hand, several things could transpire. You could be excited to see a friend and quickly ask how their day is going. Or if the person walking past you isn’t necessarily your friend, you might smile or even say something using those things we call words, but only if you muster up enough courage.
What about the times when two people who recognize each other end up making eye contact and nobody says anything? Awkward silence. Maybe look the other way. Fake a smile. No “hello.”No acknowledgement.
When we are not acknowledged by our peers in the simplest of encounters, our overall consensus is negative. We may even feel a little agitated or angry. I know for a fact that if I walk all the way across campus during a busy time of the day and I don’t get a single “hello,” I might feel a little lonely or at least small.
Can you think of times when you’ve seen somebody at the Caf and they say hi, then another person does the same, and another, and another? You feel acknowledged; you feel important. Although you may not be thinking that at the time, you feel good when you talk to people. We like it when people say hi to us. We want to be cared about. This is why the acknowledgment of our peers is so important.
According to Peg O’Connor, Philosophy Professor, “We all do it to others [not saying hello] and yet we can’t stand it when others do it to us. There is an asymmetry at play: we want to be acknowledged, but we often fail to do it to others. I also think the more we don’t acknowledge others, the easier it becomes to do. It becomes a habit and not a good one.”
Greeting a peer whom you may or may not know is an opportunity to make a positive impact. It’s a chance to build relationships and at times can even be a confidence-booster. So the real question here is, why do we hesitate to do good?
For example, a friend of mine (who happens to be an international student) was having a bad day recently. After talking with her, I found out that people were sometimes not responding to her when she said, “Hello.” It seemed like people were ignoring her, and she thought it was her fault. This leads me to believe that perhaps American culture is the cause of this. Perhaps we aren’t as nice as we think we are, or we’re just becoming too shy.
But it’s also the way we greet people that really makes a difference. The next time you say hello, say it like you mean it. Say it like you actually care about that individual. More often than not, we ask “How are you?” and the response ninety-nine times out of a hundred is, “I’m good, how are you?”
We say this without thinking twice about it, even though we may be feeling miserable or having a bad day. Why do we do this? We may think that people don’t care, but I will let you in on a little secret: people do care. The moment you answer honestly and truthfully is the moment that you will find that out for yourself.
So avoid the awkward silences and the weird encounters. Say “hello” and meet someone new. Give a genuine smile. Make a difference.