Have you ever considered the importance of acknowledging people around you? My dad was a talker. He developed the habit from his dad, I’m fairly sure. I recall many times when I was growing up and visiting my grandparents in New Mexico, my abuelita and I ended up hanging around outside a grocery store waiting for my grand-papi to finish his conversation with some random person inside the store. Every time it happened I would ask my grammy, “did he see someone he knew?” The response was always the same, “he thinks he knows everyone.” I never seemed to learn to stop asking. My dad was the same. Any elevator, line or general space where people were standing around waiting for something he would always wait out his chance to start a conversation or at least acknowledge someone’s existence with a smile and a nod.
Often it is suggested to me that I am very much like my dad. I accept that wholeheartedly, and I had to finally agree when I started repeating his bad jokes to friends. Because of this, I find myself at odds with city living. I do the city thing walking with an iPod whenever I leave the house in my attempt to signifying that I’m too busy listening to music to be bothered. However, I rarely keep up the charade. If someone talks to me, I will respond as long as it’s not (1) obnoxious or (2) rude. For example, I had a short conversation with a man trying to sell knock off Coldplay CDs while I waited to cross the street on my way to the Financial District. It was amusing because I told him I wasn’t enough of a fan to buy a CD and he wanted to know who Coldplay was in the first place, so we ended up chatting for a few minutes about music in general. Another time I learned from a guy around Pershing Square that the dog in Mel Gibson’s Mad Max movies was an Australian Cattle Dog. Learn something new every day.
I find that I continually walk through downtown assessing people as I pass them. Step one: are they a little on the crazy side and if so how crazy because I have yet to meet anyone completely sane. Initial assessment done, move to step two: are they going to acknowledge that I’m walking by them? If yes, then step three: smile and give a head nod. I don’t care who you are. Homeless, artist, transient, hipster, business person, entrepreneur, if you’re in downtown then we should learn how to coexist. And by that I mean acknowledge each other.
When I first moved to the Historic Core, I found that I needed to walk down Main Street quite often. In the mornings there was always a group of guys sitting in the same general area drinking, smoking or doing whatever else they do on a regular day. For the first week I ignored their comments and kept walking, though as the week progressed they seemed to get progressively more annoying. So finally, I decided to try something new. The following week as I passed the group, I looked at one gentleman in the middle of the pack who never said a word to me. I made eye contact, smiled and said “good morning, sir. I hope you have a nice day.” Everyone stopped talking. The man returned my good morning and wished me a good day, as well. From that point on, those guys have never bothered me again. Do I recommend this course of action to everyone in all circumstances? Of course not. But the power of acknowledging someone worked quite well. If it hadn’t worked, well I would have come up with a different plan. I still see several of those guys today as I walk to work in the morning and we’ve kept up the routine. “Good morning, sir. I hope you have a nice day.”
There have been many times that the people I’ve met have helped me out in different ways, and I am always grateful for their assistance or general civility or, even minimally, humorous conversation. I like knowing the people who live around me, and I welcome those experiences. It’s my continued attempt to bring a little Southern hospitality to Downtown. It’s feels good to be nice to people. More likely than not those around you will return the favor.
Photo credit: Photo taken from the blog site Doggie Stylish.