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Posted on Mar 18, 2016

Vow to reach out to someone new today

By Sandy Zavala

We all acknowledge that shopping isn’t always enjoyable but rarely do we walk away unsettled by the experience, asking uncomfortable questions about whether people revert to their lower brain functions to maintain their positions at the top of their respective social food chains.
Some time ago I went to a large chain store to purchase some high-quality, wide-ruled paper for my son’s journal entries. Gaggles of customers waited to approach the shelves. A palpable frustration permeated the aisle as shoppers inched toward the displays. Most “jockeyed for position,’’ setting aside socially acceptable boundaries of personal space in favor of “fight-or-flight” responses to maintain visual lock on their desired items.
When it was my turn to shop, I politely said “excuse me” to a shopper who was blocking access to filler paper as she selected folders to the left of where my item was located. This woman completely ignored me as I said “excuse me” one more time.
My voice was indeed audible, my request was reasonable and my delivery was pleasant, so why did she choose to ignore me? I suppose there was the slight possibility this woman was hard of hearing; however, considering this woman appeared to be in her mid-30s and did not display any obvious hearing apparatus, this hypothesis is highly doubtful. Correspondingly, submitting to my own lower brain urging, I dove in without hesitation, selecting paper from the shelf without waiting for permission from said customer.
Why was this experience so extraordinary? This small detail of daily life would seem insignificant if it didn’t scream volumes about our lack of empathy for our neighbor when it inconveniences us or infringes on our personal goals. After all, aren’t we supposed to love our neighbors?
I am not forcing my religious beliefs on anyone, but a Bible verse from the Book of Luke comes to mind. Luke 6:32 – 36 states, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.”
How about allowing that person with only one item in his basket to go ahead of you in line because you have a large load to check out? Perhaps you could initiate some witty conversation to lighten the charged mood in that crowded aisle? When was the last time you reached out to someone outside your immediate social circle or church community who seemed unlike you? How do people reach that unenviable point where they unconsciously decide that they have enough friendship and love in their lives so they could care less about getting to know someone new?
If we are open enough, we can find worthwhile attributes and commonalities in everyone. Remembering that each person who crosses our path deserves polite regard and genuine curiosity is a social skill that has lost some of its prevalence in recent history. The dawn of Post-Modern America has elevated individual uniqueness over societal cohesion. Gone are the conventional “pleases,” “thank yous” and “have a nice days” of yesteryear.
Have we forgotten how good it feels to be greeted, to be appreciated and to be addressed with a warm smile? Research indicates that smiling more actually makes people happier. Imagine how much of a difference an infectious grin can make for those leading solitary lives. Try it. It won’t cost you a single penny.
While professional environments increasingly advocate teamwork and compromise, current psychology touts individual singularity. Learning to put oneself in someone else’s shoes is a lost art. As a parent, I strive to teach my boys that all of God’s creation is valuable. I spend much time asking my sons “How do you think they feel?” and “What can you do to make him feel better?” If my husband and I raise boys who are kind and love bountifully, we will have succeeded as parents.
Next time you walk by someone you don’t know, say hello. Seek to know the parents of your children’s peers, the new folks in town or that middle-aged divorcee, even if by your infallible visual estimation you couldn’t possibly have anything in common with them. Hold the door open for a shopper struggling with a heavy pile of groceries. Better yet, grab a bag and help. Empathize with the frazzled cashier instead of feeling impatient and inconvenienced. Make someone’s day. You’re the one who will feel terrific afterward.
Sandy Zavala is former social worker, healthcare researcher and counselor who lives in Quincy with her family.

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