Probably going to make this the first post on a blog, feedback welcome!
YOU ARE PROBABLY NOT SAYING HI TO ENOUGH PEOPLE ON THE SIDEWALK
Note: This essay might only apply to guys, but probably not. It is especially relevant in a downtown/college/work setting, COVID notwithstanding.
You should say hello to more people on the sidewalk. Let’s face it – you don’t say hi to strangers enough. You probably don’t greet them enough online and you damn sure don’t greet them enough in person. I know this because I was frequently the new kid in school, I enjoy talking to strangers, and even still I spent a lot of my time in college walking to class thinking “It’s that dude from accounting, I only know that guy’s first name and that he wears a Chicago Cubs hat. I hope we don’t say hello in passing.”
This is a dumb way to live. At some point you met your best friend in the whole world. It was probably somewhat forced at the beginning, but now you are friends and don’t think at all about how awkward that first conversation was.
Here’s how I met a few of my best friends, in no particular order:
1: I asked to sit at her lunch table and she said no because it was too crowded (it really was too crowded.) We’ve been dating for years.
2: We were assigned roommates, but before we met in person I sent him a snap saying hi + a Harambe meme and he responded with a pic of his under-chin and the caption “More like KILLARY CLINTON.” We live far apart and still talk once every few days.
3: I’d had my first glass of wine by accident at a party. I sat there on his couch asking about the “sour Sprite” I’d just had while he played Mario Super Sluggers with our mutual friends. We live a few blocks away, play tennis together, and hang out every few weeks.
4: He knocked on the door looking for my roommate at 7 AM after I’d been up until 2 AM doing homework. I answered the door in my pajamas thinking he was someone else that I recognized. He ended up being a great roommate the next year. We text every so often and when we see each other around town it’s a good day.
5: We knew each other as little kids, both moved, and didn’t talk for years. I emailed figuring he wouldn’t respond. He responded. This is now the “longest” friendship of my life, and I am excited to catch up.
And yet for some reason saying hi to someone from class on the sidewalk is a burden.
Everyone has reasons for not saying hi on the sidewalk. I enjoy a quiet stroll and don’t like spooking people out, so I usually don’t say hi past sunset, or when it’s just me and another person in passing, or when it’s a girl walking alone. This was at one point more than 60% of the people I could possibly meet for the first time in a day, now it is more than 95%. The probability of making friends like the ones above was already low, and it has dropped tremendously since graduating. And those are just the “pure” motives for not saying hi to people! That leaves out a million other worse reasons you might not say hi to people, which are probably the real ones. Unless you are in the middle of a task or would be late to something, it is worth it to say smile, say hello, and talk for as long as you please. People fret about the details but doing this enough will make you a god.
The friend who woke me up at 7 AM had mastered this art. While walking to class with him I realized that he was saying hi to most people we passed. They knew him by name from various classes, hangouts, etc. because he would say hello when given the chance. He made time for this in his schedule, leaving early to say hello and catch up with people he hadn’t seen. If someone talked a lot and he was in a rush he would quickly explain so and promise to talk later.
This had huge rewards. Everyone knew who he was. He had learned a lot of skills: Confidence, how to politely excuse himself (a big one), how to make small talk meaningful, all because he was willing to embrace the initial awkwardness of saying hi to an entire university, one person at a time. At a certain point people started doing his work for him: He was given great introductions and his reputation for kindness preceded him, so people were eager to meet him.
He also disproved a lot of miserly cop-outs for not saying hi: He had trusted friends, a girlfriend, and a perfectly functioning social life. He probably had the best social life, since he was welcome in every single clique. I repeat: He was welcomed in every single clique.
When I point out how powerful this ability is, and how easily it could be replicated, I hear two objections.
- Fear. This is the only “good” objection, but just because the solution is hard does not make it any less simple. As long as you are safe and on-time, you should practice greeting people on the sidewalk, and celebrate each victory.
- Potential burdens – “I have enough friends” or “I don’t want to talk that much.” You are not obligated to make these people close friends, and you do not have to talk any more than you wish. In fact, most of the time other people do not want to talk that much. Even still, people enjoy being known in their communities and you probably would too.
By saying hello to people on the sidewalk, you are encouraging yourself and others to be a little more polite, encouraging a little more public trust, and potentially startling one or two people. You can get that down to zero if you don’t approach anyone from behind and leave a few feet of distance. The benefits surely outweigh the costs.
A lot of internet writing focuses on the big stuff – how to be more productive, how to succeed at work, how to succeed romantically, how to conquer the world on a four-day work-week and still have time for shitposting - and chances are if you’re reading this you’re usually thinking about the big stuff. Consider this a reminder that small stuff matters too, and that you are probably underestimating the benefits of little acts of friendliness.