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February 3, 2022

Fellow travellers in the universe

I go for long walks about three times a week. It’s pretty quiet but I usually pass people going the other way. You can see that you are going to meet from some way off so what do we do?

Some people carry their territory with them as if to say, “I’m walking through the middle here, so you need to get out of my way.” Others play the “I’m unsure what to do here, I’m not really here” and hug the wall as they go. Sometimes you even go into that strange dance we do when no one knows which side to pass on.

“We can be very judgmental of others– perhaps it’s to do with our national obsession of working out whether we are above or below others.”

I suppose we can’t help being critical about the people we see. We can be very judgmental of others– perhaps it’s to do with our national obsession of working out whether we are above or below others. And strangers – well we don’t know anything about them – are we safe? It’s an understandable inbuilt system to protect us.

All these thoughts pass through your mind as you get closer and closer, and you are working out what to do. I’m not better at it than anyone else but I decided a few years ago to always say hello and smile to the people I come across. You have to time it right – too far away is a bit scary and too close might be borderline creepy.

I get a feel for the kind of person they are by seeing how they carry themselves; are they confident and standing tall or embarrassed and shrinking? Is there eye contact or not? I’m quite often surprised by people who walk very confidently but just before they reach the place where you might say hello they suddenly find something very important to look at on the ground or in the distance. So perhaps they weren’t so confident after all. I might choose not to speak to them – because they are signalling that they don’t want you to.

I say my hello which might also be a “Morning” or “Afternoon.” I send it out not expecting a reply because again some people don’t seem to hear you while others give you a friendly word back. I’ve noticed that people with dogs are generally chattier than the rest.

I don’t say any more after my “Hello” as that might be overfamiliar but if they say something about the weather I’d reply. I think it’s good for us to speak up even when people don’t reply. It reminds us that it takes confidence to engage with people and confidence is so easily taken away.

Years ago, I visited Israel and at Tel Aviv airport everyone had to be interviewed by a couple of young people. They would ask quite intrusive questions like, “Where did you go while you were here?” and “Who did you meet?” It was quite annoying because how dare they ask – they don’t know me? Then I thought about it from the point of view of the young people. What a fantastic way to learn to be the equal of anyone in the world. They’re doing a job they’ve been instructed to do and quickly learn to speak up politely, listen to what people have to say and deal with whatever happens. It would have to give you confidence.

“Performing requires that level of confidence and of course the great thing about learning to perform is that you add to your confidence all the time, so it grows inside you – though hopefully not to arrogant proportions.”

Performing requires that level of confidence and of course the great thing about learning to perform is that you add to your confidence all the time, so it grows inside you – though hopefully not to arrogant proportions. Therefore, I would say greet those strangers you meet on a walk and even if they don’t reply, you learn something about them and you too. 

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