Do you see me? I see you. Walking, early on a weekday. This is your time to exercise. It’s my time too. It would be impossible not to see me directly across the street from you, bright pink visor on my head, walking my dog. I dart my eyes your way, ready to receive or instigate a greeting should you look my way. But you don’t. No wave. No smile. No hello. No good morning, even though you know my name and I know yours. Yet you can’t even be bothered to acknowledge my existence. This makes me feel small.
Do you see me? I see you. Running along the street toward me. A mere five feet from me. It’s your morning jog. Kids are at school. This your time to exercise. Mine too. I ready myself to smile, maybe a little wave. I don’t want to bother you. Hell, I certainly don’t want to chat. And even though we live on the same block, you don’t look up. Maybe you didn’t see me? Your eyes are hidden under the visor of your hat. I would give you the benefit of the doubt if this were the first time, but it’s not. No nod. No half-wave. No acknowledgment that I exist. This makes me feel small.
Do you see me? I see you. The flat “hi” you give me at the school function. We know each other. I sit alone at a table. I smile huge, welcoming. Like a stupid dog. You walk past me and find a seat at another table. An empty one. While you wait for someone better to sit with. I’m not good enough, or something. Maybe you just flat-out don’t like me. That happens. It hurts, but I get it. I don’t particularly like you either – nor do I have reason to dislike you – but because you are human, I would’ve sat with you had the tables been turned that day.
I see you, at the grocery checkout counter. The checker and bagger are friendly. I know because I’m in their line weekly. Let’s be honest, bi-weekly, because I’m always out of something. Did you see them? You respond to the checker’s friendly comments in a clipped tone, annoyed to be bothered. You don’t meet their eyes. You don’t smile. You don’t thank the bagger who just packed all your groceries while you stood there examining your manicured nails. I bet this makes them feel small. I’m extra nice to them when it’s my turn, because no one deserves that. You are not better than them. You are not more deserving. You are not special.
I’m not naive enough to think I’m perfect. I’m often lost in the stories that live in my head, and go way too long before calling my parents or reaching out to my friends. I’m sure more than once I’ve been hurried, lost in thought and didn’t see someone who saw me. We’re all busy; it happens. It’s totally probable that my social anxiety was mistaken for aloofness before, too. Perhaps my smile looked forced, or my greeting seemed short and impersonal, and I inadvertently hurt someone’s feelings.
It’s possible my introverted nature made someone feel like I didn’t want to be with them, when the truth is, I adore them, but the social stuff is sometimes too much for me. Everyone has their own stresses and challenges. I get that. For that reason, I’m careful to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. I try not to read into it. Try not to judge. It’s not always about me, after all.
But. Because I’m certain some people truly just don’t get it, I will spell it out here:
The tiniest act of kindness can change someone’s entire day. An unsolicited compliment, a nod, a smile – can make people feel like they matter. Can make them feel like they are here too. Like they are a living, breathing soul who matters and not just an invisible crumb that exists in your world.
I’ve had the simple gesture of eye contact mean so much to me I nearly stumbled.
In the world we live in today, with all the violence, insecurity, competition to be “perfect”, disease, homelessness, fear, constant media awareness of the demented, hateful people that lurk around every corner, hell sometimes around our own Thanksgiving table…would it hurt to make eye contact once in a while? Would it hurt to acknowledge another human’s existence?
No matter our size, shape, ethnicity, culture, baggage, financial status – we will always have a common denominator: we are human beings.
And don’t you dare think you get to decide who deserves or needs acknowledgment. You don’t know anyone’s story. You may think you do, but you don’t. Don’t slather insincere kindness on people you deem to be “less fortunate”, acting like Mother Effing Theresa, only to be selectively cold to others, because you’re jealous, or you view them as competition, or they have nothing to offer you, or simply because your narcissistic head is so far up your ass, you don’t realize that Every. Life. Matters.
Just f*cking smile.
You don’t have to hug, or talk, or become best friends. It won’t cost you a thing.
Just f*cking smile.
Because it says, “I see you.”
Because it’s human.
And it’s so easy to do.
And it could make someone’s day.
And kindness is contagious.
And maybe you’ll feel better for it too.
(This post originally ran on Beth Teliho’s blog.)
About the author: Beth Teliho is a writer, artist and tree hugger who lives in Texas with her husband and two adventurous sons. Restless in the mundane, she writes about the abnormal, paranormal and otherwise fantastical because that’s what quickens her heartbeat. She laughs at inappropriate jokes, and prefers spicy food and margaritas to almost anything. One day, she hopes to live in a treehouse, where she can be an eccentric introvert with at least seven cats. Find more from Beth at www.bethteliho.me, on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.