A Healthy Level of Engagement

Most days as I drive around town, I see someone standing on a street corner waving a large sign advertising homes or pizzas, and more often than not they’re “tuning out” with headphones on and Ipod blaring. But some days, I spot the older gentleman with his pizza sign and I wave enthusiastically at him. I’ve actually never met him, but every time I see him he’s waving at all the cars zipping by… And it makes we wonder if we are engaged enough in the street-level sense.

Do people gather on front porches much anymore? Are there any more gas station attendants who fill your tank and check your fluids and tires? Do you frequent any neighborhood places where everybody knows your name? Or are we hiding behind our caller ID’s and online social networks so much that we’re losing our nerve or people skills?

The automated check-out lines of The Home Depot are empty whenever I’m there. Raley’s has them too, but I prefer to wait for an available clerk. It’s not because I can’t check myself out, but I’d rather have face-to-face time with a (hopefully) friendly cashier rather than interacting only with machines. To be honest, however, I don’t always choose the human route; I do love the convenience of ATMs, drive-thrus and online shopping. But I want some things to remain as they are before they become obsolete or we lose our sense of nostalgia.

What are some potentially counter-productive things we’ve learned in our modern society? Don’t talk to strangers because they have malicious motives. Don’t engage haggard-looking people because they’re probably going to ask for money. Don’t trust anyone because everyone’s out to get us. Don’t touch anything because it’s full of cooties. Whether literally or figuratively, the warnings go on. And while some may be practical, even necessary at times, we may also go too far when it comes to expecting the worst. So we lock ourselves in our houses or cars and plug our ears, rushing from place to place; weary of people, things and experiences we’re not familiar with.

One reason I like greeting the clerk at the grocery store is that it reminds me that most people are friendly and want you to have a good experience. It also keeps my social skills limber. Talking to strangers on the street? I think it keeps my compassionate nature in check – be compassionate, but know your boundaries. I guess I tend to be an engager. I smile at people I don’t know and enjoy the company of kind people. But fear and unnecessary anxieties are nevertheless things I often have to wrestle with. And when my experience does turn bad (which is rare), I check to see who instigated it. Did I attract it with my fearful or negative energy? If not – and my conscience is clean – I have to accept that it says a lot more about them than me.

If I were to let the more unpleasant experiences send me into my shell for too long, I would be a lot less likely to invite positive interactions in the future. Not to mention, a fearful person is scary in their own way… so one victim breeds another. Even if we have to practice it over and over again – playing with our boundaries and tapping into our hard-earned wisdom; even if we have to remind ourselves several times daily – let’s choose love over fear as often as possible. It is a choice, after all.