A couple of months ago, I was on a routine car journey, travelling along a busy street in town when something out of the ordinary happened.
Firstly, I should explain that pedestrians wishing the cross this busy street usually wait at an island in the road for an opportune gap in the traffic. I have become so accustomed to there always being someone on this island that I have developed an automatic reflex of slowing down to allow pedestrians to cross here without giving it much thought. I'm usually in mid-conversation with the kids or singing along to the radio when I give the waiting person a quick gesture of my hand or a flash of the headlights. People generally respond with a wave of the hand or a nod of the head by way of a thank you.
This particular mundane journey, however, has wedged itself into my memory because the man that I gestured to cross the road stunned me with his gratitude. It was nothing over the top. He didn't bow down in worship or blow me kisses; that would've made me feel uncomfortable. No, it was just his smile. It was a genuine smile. And it hit me like a bolt of lightning.
As I drove on, I was left feeling very thoughtful and analytical. Why did I feel such a reaction to this guy's smile? It wasn't a physical attraction or a romantic moment, although it definitely felt uplifting and addictive. But then, people smile all the time, right? Wrong. Within the next hour of 'people watching' I came to realise that a genuine, tooth-revealing, eye-sparkling smile from a complete stranger is actually quite a rare thing. Even to have made eye contact with this guy was something of an achievement. That's not to say that common courtesy is dead; it's not. People still hold doors open and say thank you to drivers at a zebra crossing, but do they do it with a smile?
Has being so connected with the world through text messaging and social media made us less social on the street? I wonder how many people miss the opportunity to smile at a stranger because they are busy texting or tweeting a smiley face to someone on their phone!
I have certainly been made more aware of how I interact with strangers. I too am guilty of being so wrapped up in my own busy life to remember that my facial expression makes a difference to a stranger on the street. I am going to do my best to change this though, one smile at a time.