Recently I read a stunt nonfiction book (my newest favorite genre) written by a self-proclaimed “shintrovert” (shy introvert) about her year of stretching beyond her comfort zone and challenging herself with what doesn’t come naturally to her temperament.
She wanted to make new friends, take new risks, and meet new people. Along the way, she consulted experts who could mentor her through all manner of tests: stand-up comedy, talking to strangers, hosting a dinner party.
One of those coaches passed along a nugget that I’ve been pondering: “Nobody waves. But everybody waves back.”
I’m from Mississippi originally, in a small town where–at least when I was growing up–almost everybody lifted at least one finger (and not the middle one) in a friendly wave as two drivers passed each other on the highway.
But I heartily acknowledge the truth of that statement above, that nobody waves, but everybody waves back. It’s true when people at church always respond in a friendly way when I approach them to talk, but they don’t initiate meeting me. It’s true when I speak to other parents at the soccer fields who probably wouldn’t make the effort to talk if I didn’t approach them first.
I decided to try a little of this on a walk the other night around the neighborhood next to ours, to test the theory and discover whether strangers might also “wave back.” I don’t think of myself as a “shintrovert,” perhaps closer to “grintrovert” (gregarious introvert). Maybe I’m more of a “lintrovert”–loquacious introvert. I made that one up myself. Anyway…
I noticed an older couple, sitting in lawn chairs in the driveway, facing the street. They weren’t talking to each other as I walked down the sidewalk near their house, and their expressions seemed rather wooden. But when I made eye contact, held up a hand, and said, “Good evening,” they both smiled and said “hello” in response. [I know ‘good evening’ sounds kind of dorky, but saying ‘hey’ sometimes seems too informal. And I usually feel disingenuous saying ‘hi.’ Because I’m from Mississippi.]
Success. Then I neared a home where an older man stood on his lawn, just looking out at the street. Perhaps he was deep in thought. He looked up at me, then I smiled and said “hello.” He smiled and returned the greeting.
Another success. On the way back to my house, I passed a woman planting shrubs in her yard. She looked messy and dirty, and I could see she’d done a tremendous amount of work on her lawn. I started with, “I can see you’ve been working hard!”
She then explained how she’d started the project the day before, but the rows of shrubbery hadn’t come out even. So she had bought more plants that day, dug more holes, and planted more bushes. I complimented her on how good they looked.
“I hope you get to enjoy it…the fruit of your labor,” I said as I began walking away.
Then she said, “Oh, bless you,” and thanked me for stopping to speak. She thanked me.
Y’all, this felt good. So indescribably good. I didn’t make any new BFFs. I didn’t exchange names with anybody. But I let those folks know they were seen and noticed. They let me know my effort at friendliness didn’t go to waste.
I waved; they waved back. That handful of people and I made a tiny connection with each other in a very disconnected world.