I am generally not the type for New Year’s resolutions, because I know they’ll end up being a source of guilt rather than motivation. That’s why I framed my call to create joy this year as a quest rather than a resolution—I’m looking for it rather than holding myself to a standard I may or may not be able to meet.
One of the awesome participants in the Create Joy in 2013 group (come join us!) on Facebook made the suggestion, early on, that we try waving to people we see in our neighborhoods, and it not only reinforced for me how insular people in the northeast (certainly in New Jersey, and perhaps especially in New Jersey) can be from each other. I barely know the names of my neighbors, much less talk or wave to them, because it’s just not part of the culture in my condo development. I think that’s a crying shame, though I can’t deny that my Inner Introvert is relieved that I don’t have to risk a long conversation every time I’m outside. The loss may well be greater than that “gain.”
When I’m driving through my neighborhood, I occasionally see a guy out running, and every time I drive past him, he holds up two fingers, almost like a Victory sign. It took me by surprise the first time it happened, and even now, I see him infrequently enough that I’m still a little surprised. I usually nod in response, not really sure what the proper etiquette is but figuring that should cover me. The last time this happened, I googled it and discovered that this is something a lot of runners do as a greeting to each other, and possibly to passing cars.
It reminds me of a similar phenomenon I noticed when I lived in Northern Ireland. I’d be minding my own business, driving down a road, and then another car would come up in the opposite direction. Almost every time, the driver, especially the men, would raise an index finger from the steering wheel in greeting. I didn’t know how to react at first, but eventually felt cold/left out if I didn’t return the gesture. I also noticed, after I got into the practice, that I rarely “waved” without smiling as well.
(Fascinatingly, WikiTravel’s Ireland page lists what I call the “Irish Driving Wave” under “Respect.” That seems fitting to me. They say, “When driving on rural roads, particularly where a driver has to pull in to allow you to pass, it is customary to wave a thanks to the other driver, by raising your hand from the steering wheel. This is particularly prevalent in rural areas of the West of Ireland where many drivers will automatically wave at everyone who drives past them. A polite hand wave (or even with just the index finger raised from the steering wheel) is customary and will be appreciated.”)
I think it’s a shame that our culture has developed this tendency to isolate ourselves from others, and I have to think it’s dangerous—almost every time we hear of a mass shooting, for instance, we hear that the suspect was a “loner” or “felt isolated,” after all. I think it’s a big part of how we deprive ourselves of joy that’s all around us, just waiting for us to discover it. I’m going to make a point of waving to my neighbors and folks I pass when I’m out and about (for a walk, at the mall—wherever), and I hope you’ll do the same. Together, we may be able to bring a much-needed level of friendliness back into our lives and our society.
Image courtesy of Flickr user e3000.