On a recent visit to the British Columbia island of Bowen Island I noticed a community of civility. As you get off the ferry and walk up the street you are greeted by smiles and “Good Morning.” Not just from the odd person but from many people: shopkeepers, residents, civilians, people just walking down the street. Why is this not happening in our larger communities?
I lived in Toronto and in Los Angeles and I would walk down the street and people would rather look the other way than look you in the eye and acknowledge your presence. Have you ever been in a department store and had to wait while store clerks talked among themselves? Then they break up the huddle and take off back to their their prospective departments and in the process totally ignore you. You, the customer who has been politely and patently waiting for service. Then you have to ask for service and a reluctant clerk joins you, with attitude.
In most major cities around the world, people have a hard time looking at each other and being together. “What are you looking at?” “You’re staring at me.” “Glaring.” Glancing away as soon as eye contact is made. It happens on the street, in elevators, on the bus or on the subway. And now there’s an even more private way to not engage. The Ipod. Everywhere you see the thin white cords of earbuds connecting people with anything but each other. Perhaps they are listening to an audiobook or the latest tune from U2 or Cold Play. That’s great, but how about the art of conversation?
In the USA many people live in gated communities. They jump in their car in the morning and spend endless hours driving between home and the office, then they park in an underground parking structure. No wonder people can’t relate to one another, or even try. They don’t care to. Some parts of society just enjoy keeping to themselves. One may wonder if they belong to a golf club, a tennis club or a sailing club. Do they go to the theatre, and if they do, do they make an effort to connect with other humans they don’t know? Even cats and dogs have a built in emotion that says hello to strangers. “Meow” or pant pant pant - wag the tail. Smell the “privates”.
Then there are the guns, muggings, robbers, angry people, mentally disturbed people, poor people. We, as a society are afraid of them all and in so being we are afraid to connect with others who might become our best friends.
It is such a breath of fresh air to visit a community like Bowen Island where not every one is perfect, but they do seem to understand that a natural human thing to do is to confer a greeting to a stranger.