When I was a kid, my father told me “look a person in the eyes and say hello.” He wasn’t telling me to talk to strangers. My dad was preparing me for the future. He knew people would look and immediately judge me by the color of my skin. The hello was the secret weapon to challenge those stereotypes that folks relied upon to guide them through their daily interactions. In short, dad was showing me how to hold my own in a world of prejudice (race, gender, age, etc.). But I digress, because this isn’t a discussion about raising kids. This is about how I incorporated my dad’s advice into my plan to change the world, one encounter at a time.
Don’t underestimate the power a hello. I see the act of saying hello as an acknowledgement of the presence of another human being. Public responses vary: you could get a hello…or not. Saying hello is easy for me but I realize it is a challenge for others. Some adults act is if their hello is too valuable to share with just anyone. Others are terrified at the thought of saying hello to strangers. They are overwhelmed with anxieties and questions. Suppose the other person ignores their hello? Or worse, suppose the stranger says hello back? Remember, it is all good. The goal of the HELLO PLAN is about acknowledging a person, not finding a soul mate.
How do you start?
Spend an hour a day saying hello to people you see on a regular basis but never speak to, like your neighbors. Increase your hello time by an hour every two weeks, until it becomes a full time habit. Don’t cheat; remember my dad’s words, “Look a person in the eyes and say hello.” I would balance his advice with my mom’s warnings: “Look, don’t stare,” and “Don’t grumble when you say hello.” I am not suggesting saying hello if the person looks dangerous; listen to your inner voice and pay attention to your Will Robinson warning signals. But be honest…if you find reason to dismiss everyone you meet, then you might want to check your own motivations.
My plan has been in place for over 10 years, and the number of recruits have increased over the years. Members have found the HELLO PLAN has improved the quality of their lives in unexpected ways. Some members found they gained invaluable lessons in the art of conversation regarding how to set boundaries and engage or disengage from conversations. Others reported increased confidence and overcame their fear of public speaking.
I am asking you to join my HELLO PLAN. It won’t cost you any money, doesn’t require camping out or protesting. All you have to do is say it.
Janet Cormier is a painter, writes prose and poetry, and performs comedy. JC prefers different and original over pretty. She loves collecting stuff, but cleaning not so much. Janet also talks to strangers… a lot. Her column appears weekly on Oddball Magazine.