Have you ever had a moment where you felt that you were part of the “Truman show” movie? I don’t mean being watched and living a fake life. Although, I am sure we have all felt that way at one point. What I mean is the moment where you step outside your house door, wave and wish everyone a good morning. Well, I actually do not do that. I do live in the suburbs. When I moved to the suburbs from the big city, I had been led (by Hollywood) to believe that one waves good morning to the neighbors. Well, that is not necessarily so in my town. Or rather Hamlet! See, I live in a small Hamlet of about 5,293 people and we live tightly packed in. Houses are on top of each other. Thusly, you would think we would be psychologically, emotionally tight with each other as well. However, everyone works in the city and leaves at varying god-awful times ranging from 4:48am to 11am. There’s no one to wave good morning to. See, I live in a particular suburban town that is a commuter town. I have wondered what it would take to get to know my neighbors and see the hands waving as we walk on by.
One morning, while holding my four-year old’s hands on our way to Pre-Kindergarten, I fell from the top of the staircase all the way down to the street. It was quite a spill and no one was really around to see it. Although I must have screamed pretty loudly for some people actually emerged to see what had happened. I was fine. But wow, that was the first time I had seen people sticking their heads out in unison that early in the morning. Let’s get this straight: falling down the stairs was not my idea of a viable community building plan.
Now, while I may not get the early-morning “hellos”, my son surely does. He gets the morning waves, not because he is cute (which he is) but because he is a Mayor. He works the crowd, even at such an early age, the way a politician does. He even notes how cute other little babies are. If he could physically pick one up and kiss it for the cameras he would be on his way to winning a presidential race. He may not be able to do that today, but soon enough it will happen.
As we step out of the house each morning and start walking down the block, he waves to the landscaper and asks what the machine is for. The landscaper chuckles and mumbles answer somewhat sheepishly. Our son has clearly never seen us, his parents, use one. As we cross the street, he waves to the taxi driver who is speeding away to pick up passengers at the local train station and tells me “wow mommy he’s going fast.” We proceed to discuss the safety issues of such fast driving-maybe one day he can take a leadership role on community safety. He then waves to the lady waiting at the bus stop. He stops to ask her “what is she doing there today?” and waits to see what her answer is-showing clear interest in understanding her situation and expanding his knowledge base. As we cross the avenue, he waves to the barber and asks whose hair he is cutting today and whether he has more lollipops. Can’t blame him for trying to score some sweets.
Everyone seems so delighted to engage in conversation with him. I can totally see him bringing these diverse individuals together. He did that while we were vacationing in Curacao reaping great benefits from working the crowd. . At times, I just want to rush on by and not stop to talk to anyone. That’s the New Yorker in me. In the city we walk so quickly that everyone and everything is a blur. I hardly ever notice a celebrity walking down the street. To tell you the truth, what I have found is that those who are NYC transplants, are usually the ones that tend to see the celebrities –probably because they are used to walking a little more slowly in their previous hometowns.
But if we are to build more sidewalks for the town, get more local businesses to open up and more houses bought and sold at solid prices, we do have to engage in a bit more community building. Plus, how else will we learn about the latest gossip if we don’t stop and wave hello and ask what the day holds ahead. One can learn a lot from a four-year old. One can learn to interact as a human being and take interest in the welfare of others. Yes, four-year olds are a bit self-centered and egocentric. Toddlers don’t always act in positive social ways because they’re not able to see things from the viewpoint of an adult or another child. They can’t imagine how a person may feel or think. They haven’t matured enough to “put themselves in the shoes” of another person. They’re only aware of their own feelings or thoughts. But how many adults do you know that fit that aforementioned description? At least children have the excuse that they are children.
What children, or at least my son the Mayor, do have is a sense of curiosity. Everything new is of interest to him. His curiosity is abundant and energy is overflowing. At four years old, children start to understand the meaning of friendship and my son is learning to be more cooperative in play with other children. A four year old also is beginning to be able to judge the reasons for many basic emotions such as happiness, sadness, and anger. What a great set of skills to possess. It’s amazing to see how there are skill sets that exist at an early age, that could lead to more cohesive communities, if they were to be maintained. Do we unlearn those skills as we get older? Are we more fearful to engage and care as adults? It’s as if adults regress; and in particular they regress enormously in the workplace. The ability to put themselves in the shoes of others (be it a new colleague or an overburdened staff person) seems to diminish with time. So, instead of telling your co-worker “stop being such a baby” we should say why don’t you be more open like a baby?