A greeting or smile can make a difference

I am the friendly old guy that tells people he meets along the avenues “good morning,” offers a nod or smiles. A good friend of mine from upstate New York said one of the hardest things she had to get used to when she moved to the south were strangers talking to you in the grocery store line. She said if you did that where I am from, people would think you are crazy. So, please forgive my intrusions, I am not crazy, just proud of my southern eccentricities. I am trying to acknowledge that we are human and need to be greeted. I am just a big, tall guy (hence the moniker, BTG) who does not mistake kindness for weakness.

I was reading a blog which is devoted to capturing acts of kindness. In this stressed out, less civil  world in which we live, acts of kindness are needed more than ever. A recent entry was meaningful as the author made a difference to an older man, walking along in pain, merely with a smile. Here is a link to this encounter.


Since I am an Old Fart, I have been greeting people like this for all of my adult life. Based on my anecdotal experience of tens of thousands of greetings, the lion share of people will respond in kind. I do get the silent treatment on occasion, but I make up for it by offering their missing part of the unstated conversation in my head – “Thanks for asking, I am doing great. Have a nice day.” Since I do a lot of hiking and walking on trails, I fully understand the need for a lone female jogger not to engage in too much conversation with a lone male on a trail. I get that. But, many will smile or nod their heads. As a needed sidebar comment, I would also encourage female joggers to not jog alone, unless it is a well-frequented trail. I worry when I see a lone jogger on a woodsy trail.

Yet, I also realize that some people need a “hello” more than others. There was segment on CBS Good Morning last week about how that “hello” can make a difference. So many people are depressed or lonely, that a greeting can boost their spirits. I would add that in working with homeless people, many feel less valued and appreciate even the smallest of gestures. Treating people as human beings is important. There is a story of a pedestrian who spoke to a homeless person on the street and he started crying. He said, “you are the first person to speak to me in a long while.”

I was walking on a college campus the other day and there were some people using the college facilities for a community meeting, but by their actions gave me the impression they did not feel they belonged there. They looked down when I passed. So, when I spoke to say good afternoon, it startled them. This made me sad, as it should not be this way. I must confess, it made me think less of this college for my daughter, as it gave me the impression that these guests were made to the feel this way. Fortunately, she deselected the college for other reasons.

So, if you are less inclined to do this, do yourself a favor and try greeting people for a day and see what happens. See if it makes you look at others differently. Remember the responses and how they made you feel. Look for conversation pieces. T-shirts, ball caps, brightly colored shoes, funny handbags are all fair game and people usually enjoy being noticed. Plus, you just might be greeting someone who truly needs it. Good day.

18 thoughts on “A greeting or smile can make a difference

  1. I so agree with you, BGT! In the west, especially the inland west, it is customary for people to exchange greetings, to even strike up conversations with strangers in the grocery store line. Interacting with fellow busy and stressed shoppers passes the time and momentarily eases personal burdens.

    I have been noticing lately, that strangers I see on the street or on the bike path often seem to light up when the see me. I’m never sure if it’s because I’m so freakin’ goofy or if it’s because I’m emanating the joy that’s inside. In any case, it makes me feel good and them, too, I’m sure.

    The real challenge is to smile at homeless people when they are panhandling. There are some really complicated emotions going on in that case. There’s the, OMG, I can’t help everyone, the guilt because someone is so miserable, there’s the homeless person’s defensive downward gaze…all that stuff and more makes it difficult to smile. But it’s important to try.And when possible a brief “hi” certainly can’t hurt.

    • Linda, thank you for being the first commenter with such an appropriate personal approach. I think people see your positive body language and react well to you before you say a word. Thanks again for being you and offering your wisdom and good feelings, BTG

    • Thanks for your note. Waiting in line is a great place to converse, especially over some of the ludicrous tabloid headlines. There is always a conversation piece. You may laugh, but I have had some fun conversations in elevators. I am tall at 6’5″, but I once got on an elevator with two young business women who were former volley ball players. They were still wearing heels and looked me in the eye.

  2. Wise words from you BTG and I’m convinced “old” will never be you…

    The television show “The Closer” had the head of the detective unit (portrayed by Kyra Sedgwick)
    saying “thank you” to those who assisted her. I find that to be a most missed element in our daily interactions with those who help or assist. It takes very little time to say thank you. To let someone know you appreciate their efforts…in just about anything/everything.

    Hello and Thank You…so under used.

  3. Great post! I am a little shy and this sort of thing used to make me really nervous for social anxiety reasons, but I agree that we can all be kinder to each other by acknowledging those around us. I was touched by the story of the homeless man. I will say, I always hated it when older men would tell me randomly, “You need to smile more,” when I was a teenager. That sort of greeting isn’t the best!

    • Emily, I have always encouraged people to make whatever suggestion their own. To some, it may be easier to smile or just nod. To some, greeting people may be an easier way to get out of their comfort zone. My wife is as friendly as they come, but she tends to be a little shy at first, as well. She hates being the center of attention, so usually she finds a way to place the attention on the other person by asking them questions. We are all different, aren’t we, which makes it interesting. By the way, from reading your reflections, you are the kind of person who people will have a more meaningful conversation with, as you are not superficial. Thanks for reading my post and responding to my sometimes off subject comments on your blog. BTG

  4. I’m known for greeting people at work on a daily basis — and I’m actually the yankee of the office (endearingly though). It’s always a good way to start the day with a simple “Hello. How are you?” I realized when the joy I felt in doing that with people, regardless of whether or not I get response. Great post.

    • Thanks for your note. Politeness truly knows no boundaries, so I am glad you took my friend’s funny story in stride. I would imagine you are quite approachable at work. Have a great one. BTG

  5. Great post and I agree with its sentiments. I also live in a big city where many people don’t do this and it’s a real shame. I make it a point to say hello to my bus driver, to the concierge in the building I work and all of the others who contribute to my day, no matter how small a contribution. It does make a difference, not only to the recipient but also to the giver.

    • Judy, thanks for your note. You are on the money with your thoughts and actions. For those in business, you have offered a great business tip. Be friendly with the gatekeepers to you clients or customers. If you are unfriendly to an Administrative Assistant, you are in a heap of trouble. It is the right thing to do, first, but it is also the smart thing to do. Thanks for sharing, BTG

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