The Wave

Posted by on Jan 17, 2013 in Joy | 8 comments

The Wave

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.


  1. What fun! Where I live (Texas), the finger lift is common but you always wave at someone sitting on their porch. :D
    Arwen recently posted..How Will You Change Energies Today?My Profile

    • Yeah, we don’t do that here in New Jersey. Not unless you already know the person. (Sort of like how you don’t make eye contact with people you don’t know when you’re in New York City.) Sad, really. I’m glad it’s not like that everywhere—and that the “driving wave” is not just an Irish thing! :)

  2. It really does make such a difference doesn’t it? I have noticed myself doing more of that to people I pass in my neighbourhood. A smile too can make someone’s day.
    Petrea recently posted..Story of Your MuseMy Profile

  3. That Southern hospitality of being neighborly I don’t always see around where I live, but there are other parts of New Jersey where I DO see that (especially near my church job) The neighbors invite me for coffee on Sunday mornings if I want and they are such nice people. Sal keeps begging me to learn Nimrod from Enigma Variations for organ. One day for him, I just might!

    • Hey, B,

      You’re talking about people you know, right? I’m talking about total strangers, for the most part (my neighbors are almost total strangers—I don’t see them that often, which doesn’t help, but I rarely exchange more than a hello or a smile with them). People you know already are a totally different kettle of fish, and I’m certainly not suggesting we ignore them—just that we pay more attention to the ones we don’t already know. :)

  4. Nancy..what fun to see the “wave” waving its way across the land! Keep on Waving, folks…esp to those you do not know!! Its good for everyone’s health and well-being!! Wave on………..

  5. Ooh, I love that – a joy quest! Fabulous! You’re right, it’s a shame when people feel isolated – I’m lucky, where I live, there are some who always say hi, some who don’t, so you get a nice mix! :-D I occasionally make it my mission to say ‘hello’ or ‘good morning’ to people who never say hi…just out of curiosity usually…are they really grumpy and miserable or just shy? Every time, they’ve come (sometimes very slowly) out of their shell to say hello, and it’s lovely to watch people blossom…and for some people, it’s the only friendly interaction they get, which is sad. x
    Donna recently posted..Video: Get Comfortable With FailureMy Profile

    • Hi, Donna!

      Come join us on the joy quest–we’d love to have you! :)

      I’ve noticed since writing this post how little I even see my neighbors, which of course makes a friendly wave even more difficult than it might be otherwise. I’m going to keep looking for opportunities, though. I love how you’ve noticed the way people blossom when we actually pay attention. It’s a beautiful thing!

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