A lady in front of me buying her train ticket yesterday morning says to the ticket man, “Cold, isn’t it?” He mumbles something in response, takes her money, gives her a ticket and off she goes. It is my turn. Gosh, it is cold. I decide on the spot that I want to be more creative and say something special, but I end up comparing Sydney winters to Europe as I usually do. The ticket man, wearing his warm-looking turban, takes my money, gives me a ticket and off I go too. Oh, I smile and I say, “Thanks.”
Walking away, I cannot stop thinking about the ways we interact with other human beings. I cannot stop thinking about the meaning behind our communications. There seems to be an unquestioned pecking order of significance based on which we categorise our interactions with one another. And true to this order, we justify our being terse or mumbling cliches, and we justify being strangers with “strangers”, whom we are likely never going to get to know any better than we do at the moment. It seems logical, but whatever is logical is usually habitual. And habitual actions are what most of us experience in between glimpses of happiness.
Yesterday morning I felt compelled to say something more than the usual, “Good morning, City return, please”. I wanted to ask, “How is your life, mate? Are you happy?” But did not. Instead, I used the weather comment, as usual.
This made me think about our other interactions, which according to this pecking order of significance, we may think are justifiably cursory, irrelevant or not worthy of deviating from the bare nature of business we have with the person or persons we interact with. After all, we cannot be humans with everyone! We have places to go, people to see, and deadlines to meet.
I remember that every time I would finish up at a supermarket checkout and say bye to the checkout assistant, I would inevitably overhear the beginning of an interaction between the next customer and the assistant. I would listen out for clues as to how did my lines compare to theirs. “Did they seem more human?”
And I realised that yesterday morning it was not my propensity to compare and be better that made me want to say something more personal to the ticket man. It was my belief about communication with other people. I believe that one should be polite, not plastic, personal, not general, and present, not aloof, both in body and mind. I believe that we should connect with everyone, no matter how significant the interaction may seem and no matter how much time we do not have. As a result, saying something more than almost mechanically bouncing platitudes off one another, is a way to be present, personal and polite. Even with so-called strangers. Ultimately, there are no strangers out there. Just women and men like you and I. Some of them you’ve never met before, some of them you will never meet. And some of them you know better than others. Similarly, there are no everyday interactions. Every contact is significant. Every exchange is unique.
Communicating with this belief at heart, hot, cold, rainy or dry weather fades in significance compared to our human uniqueness which reflects who we truly are and yearns to express itself and connect with others.