When did we forget how to communicate?

I used to be amazed at the number of people my father knew; everyone from the clerk at the grocery story to the toll-booth worker on our way into (or leaving) Iowa seemed to be his friend.  His friendly chatter and smile was indeed infectious.  It carried on to all of his seven children.  I don’t believe any of us would be considered shy by today’s standards.

I was reminded of my dad the week I started at Marquette University.  Assistant Dean Rose Richards and I were walking down Wisconsin Avenue and a homeless person was passing.  Rose looked into their eyes and said “good morning, how are you?”.  This person smiled back and said “well the day is sunny so I’m doing good”.  As we walked on, Rose turned to me and said, “you know Carole, people just want to be acknowledged”.  She was right, and so was my father.  People need to be acknowledged, to be seen, to be spoken to by another person.

My father passed away in 2000 and Dean Richards has moved on to making a difference in the lives of students from Messmer High School.  But I think of both of them as I walk down Wisconsin Avenue.  I am sure I am known as the crazy lady at Marquette because I will look at anyone I can catch eye contact with and say “hello”.  Most of the time I get a smile and a nod-but often times my words fall on deaf ears.  Not because the person doesn’t want to hear my words, but because they can’t.  Ear buds are securely fastened restricting sound and allowing each individual to walk to the soundtrack they choose for their life.

How sad for them, because you see, smiling and meeting people’s eyes is what charges me up.  It gives me passion for my job and for the challenges of the day.  The world is far too serious and I need to make sure I am able to laugh at small mistakes or missteps.  Smiling is one way to make sure I don’t take my self too serious.

Another way is by talking to strangers.

Yup – I’m that person.  The one that talks on elevators and mentions simple things like the way ours seems to get phone calls from the information booth at the union, or at the street corner, mentioning how the salt on the side of the car has created a decoration in the shape of the Nike logo making it look just like a large shoe.

Today I stopped in the bank and spoke with the personal banker greeting people at the door.  We chatted for a bit and exchanged names.  Although I’m not positive she remembers me, I remember her name was Tracey.  When I left my pace was a little quicker and my heart was a little lighter.  It was going to be a good day.

In the world there are arguments about politics, religion, cheating sports teams, people’s rights, salary and percentages.  I know that when I was young and my father was driving us to Dubuque these same problems existed.  But perhaps we were more willing to be thoughtful of others because we took the opportunity to stop and talk.  We knew our neighbors and store clerks, we understood their position and they understood ours.  We were willing to bend a little because it helped make someone else’s life a little easier.  That was all because we took the time to communicate.

When I started at Marquette ten years ago and walked down the street with Rose, life wasn’t any easier, but still, an element of patience and understanding existed.  We were smiling and talkative as we returned to work.  I may have been on a “I have a great new job” high, but for some reason the air felt lighter and the halls seemed brighter.

I miss those days, but I know – that they don’t have to be gone from existence – currently they are just hidden behind technology.

I know I’m a bit late on this – but if you haven’t made a Lenten promise, perhaps it can be to put down the technology when you walk down the street, just once a day, and instead of checking emails or tweeting, meet the eyes of a stranger and say ‘hello’ – or ask how they are and really mean it, wait for an answer and listen to it.  You may be surprised how much nicer the world will become and how much stress is reduced.

It won’t cost you anything to try, and for a bonus, the only side effect it will produce is freedom.  Freedom to just be who you were when you were young.  Naive, carefree and happy.  Who knows, you may find a new friend or help someone else’s day to be a bit better – interpersonal communication is contagious – pass it on!

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