The Strange Ignoring of Strangers
When did we start thinking ignoring other people in our vicinity was a good idea?
I live in Seattle, the “land of no eye contact.” This reputation is reinforced almost every time I go out in public.
One of the places I love to walk is a wonderful, tree-filled public land called Discovery Park. It is a popular place, so I pass 50-100 people every time I venture there. Not being from Seattle originally, I frequently smile and say hi to strangers. I am amazed at how few people make eye contact unless I say hello. I am even more amazed at how many don’t respond. Note—I do my best not to appear like an ax-murderer.
The other day I passed a middle-aged man, sitting on a bench in the sun, who steadfastly stared at his phone as I walked by. (I chose not to intrude with “hello” this time.) I marveled at how much energy it took to pretend someone wasn’t there.
If you want to try this yourself, next time you are waiting at a red light, trying not to see the homeless person standing a few feet away, notice how much tension this creates in your body and mind.
Here’s the thing…all this ignoring is not natural. We are creatures with minds that constantly scan for danger. To ignore other big creatures close to us goes against instinct.
Yet that is what we do.
Why? When did connecting become so scary? When did pretending other human beings don’t exist become normal? I don’t have the answer, but I do have hope that this wacky trend can change.
It feels so good when I say hi to a stranger and they look at me, their eyes lit up by a smile. One time, years ago, I gave a dollar to a homeless man while I was waiting at one of those red lights. He reached down, pulled a flower from the side of the road, and handed it to me. I gave him a gift and he gave me one. Somehow, I think I got the greater gift. I felt warm all day from that simple, kind, gesture. It still warms my heart.
A connection, however brief, was made between two human beings.