Out walking: The richness of brief encounters

The unexpected richness of a greeting warmly returned...

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Brief encounters

“…We, the women, men and children of London, march to put an end to violence. The violence of words, of acts, of fists, of firearms and bombs. We oppose violence not with ever more violence, but with everyday acts of kindness, with concern for those who are poor, rejected and in ill health. It is not easy. But that is our goal…” Annie Wight, young figurehead of the London Whatever movement during a speech in Stories People Tell.

Saying “Good morning”

Meeting someone I don’t know as I’m out walking down by the lake or up in the forest, I nod and say hello. Not everyone responds. Some people wall themselves in stubborn silence, plugs in their ears, eyes fixed on a distant nothingness. Such unresponsiveness is often projected like a protective shield that surrounds the person. In such cases, I tend to avoid bothering the passer-by. Although occasionally I deliberately challenge them with my greeting, an approach that is occasionally rewarded by a startled look and a greeting, as if my “Good morning” had woken them from a deep sleep.

A breath of fresh air

When someone does respond to my greeting, it’s like a breath of fresh air. Eye contact is important. Those who steadfastly look away while conceding a hello are withholding something both from me and themselves. They respond to a convention that requires them to reply, but they refuse any further personal engagement. When the greeting is accompanied by a glance or, better still, a smile, it comes as a delicious bonuses that not only bears witness to the openness of the person but enriches us both.

Even in a village

I live in a village. Maybe such encounters are easier when there are only a few thousand inhabitants or less. In a village, people can be more willing to greet each other. But even in a village, there is a creeping individualism, especially in the more well-off areas, in which people retreat to their house or their flat, like a lord or a lady to their castle, and want little to do with their neighbours, only engaging in selected local activities with like-minded people.

Acts of kindness

I believe the brief encounters when a greeting is returned with warmth serve to gift us something very special: a tiny dose of life force that is essential for our wellbeing. There’s been a lot of talk recently about the importance of everyday acts of kindness as a source of physical and spiritual well-being. You might say the nod or the smile or the exchanged word with a person you don’t know is, in fact, the most basic act of kindness and is essential for our wellbeing.

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