Making the World Smaller

Cities often seem unfriendly relative to small towns. What gives? I’ve spoken with several folks about the dichotomy in friendliness between small towns and dense urban centers. I suspect it’s due to our threat detection systems. Let’s say that 1 in 1,000 people is a criminal, for example. In a town of 30,000 people, that leaves us with 30 criminals. Assuming a large city has the same number of criminals per capita, an individual may cross paths with many of these people within a single day. Because criminals don’t blatantly advertise themselves, we are more likely to view people we see as “different” or “abnormal” as threatening. Also, the sheer number of people makes engaging with individuals less feasible (try saying hi to everyone during peak time on the Metro), and many of us instead wall ourselves off as an adaptation.

What can we do about this? Culture is a shared set of behaviors deemed acceptable. Behaviors repeated most are most acceptable, with the idea that undesirable behaviors are infrequent and carry a cost as a means of discouraging them. Make acceptable that which you wish occurred more often, by demonstrating it yourself. Maybe don’t say hi to everyone on the metro, but try talking to the person sitting next to you or the person next to you on the airplane.

“Community will be created the moment we decide to act as creators of what it can become.”- Peter Block

If we want to live in friendly places, an excellent way to create them is by acting friendly! Many times I’ve noticed that a small gesture like a friendly smile or simply a warm “hello” serves as a bridge that can brighten nearly anyone’s day. Disarm by the Smashing Pumpkins is a dark song, but the lyric “disarm you with a smile” holds water.

“In my walks, every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him.”- Emerson

Emerson is right. My friend Dan says, “always student, always teacher.” We should be mindful of this. Everyone we meet is a person we can learn from. Having this mindset cultivates a sense of curiosity and wonder and allows us to view regular everyday experiences through a different lens.

Making small stretches to engage can cumulatively go a long way. Some studies reinforce this behavior that seems like common sense — Is Efficiency Overrated?: Minimal Social Interactions Lead to Belonging and Positive Affect Love and kindness are not zero-sum. They aren’t quid-pro-quo either. Being kind to someone doesn’t force them to be kind back, but it’s easier to be kind to someone who has been kind to you first.

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