Stop. I dare you. Drop everything, take a breath and look around. Who do you see? The shop assistant you see everyday who’s name badge you’ve never noticed? The librarian you’ve never thanked? The homeless guy outside the subway you’ve never smiled at. People. Lots of them. Everywhere. Each and every one with stories, experiences, lessons to teach, laughter to share. But today we live in a troubled world. In our fast-paced, caffeine fuelled, screen obsessed lives, stress driven tornado called life, how of amazing. You just have to give them a chance to show you.
And everyone was a stranger to begin with. Imagine your mum hadn’t given your dad the time of day… well, you wouldn’t be here would you? Think of your best memories, your happiest times. Splashing about in the sparkling sea, running around yelling blue murder in the playground, dancing into the night… I bet you that nine times out of ten someone else shares that memory with you. It’s a cliche but it’s a cliche for a reason – a sorrow shared is a sorrow halved, and good times are all the sweeter with someone by your side. Every person you pass, is an opportunity to make someone’s day. And you never know, you might even save someone’s life.
Growing up in a rural village, I was astounded when I moved to the ‘big city’. Born into a community where you wave at any old Tom, Dick or Harry and chat to anyone and everyone, I was bemused to find myself in a world where I didn’t even know who lived in the same building as me, let alone the same street. And walking down Sauchiehall Street smiling at everyone that I saw… well apparently that just ain’t the done thing. A few days ago, I was stepped out of the toilet cubicle to wash my hands, and discovered one other person there. Awkward… We both washed our hands in silence, gazes firmly fixed on our own reflections in the mirror, went to our own separate hand dryers and left without so much as a smile of acknowledgement. I had noticed this girl earlier working on something in my lab, and would actually really have liked to ask what she was working on. But for some reason I felt a crippling fear of speaking up. Why do we now live in a society where silence and narrow mindedness is the crippling norm, and it’s the exception to ask, to question, to talk, to engage, to live…
Another anecdote – participating in a training course last week, the group was given a 5 minute break. Instead of talking to each other, each and every person wapped out a smart phone, and frantically started typing, swiping, tapping, desperately avoiding eye contact with the others in the room … I was perplexed. Granted, I didn’t particularly have any reason to assume that any of us were going to be firm friends, or even like each other. But why not find out? What have we really got to lose? Is social media really worth giving up on real human contact for? Can your pixelated screen give the feeling of a warm squishy hug? Can staring at the pavement make you blush the way eye contact with a cute dude/gal can? Is silence really better than a natter with the granny beside you on the bus, that is, if you’re brave enough to sit next to something as terrifying as another living breathing soul who might say the dreaded words ‘who are you’? And forget about you for a moment. Forget about the essay deadline, the new pair of shoes you’ve got your eye on, the spot you’ve tried to cover up with 3 layers of concealer, the argument with your mum because she just doesn’t understand. Just for a few seconds, think about how your actions could quite literally change the world.
Having suffered with a mental illness for years, I know how much of a difference people can make. In the depths of my eating disorder, when hope was buried deep within and happiness was long forgotten friend, a genuine smile from a stranger could quite often be the thing that helped me see the world in a better light. And when I needed help, the people who gave up their time and went above and beyond their duty to simply sit and chat and make me feel worth something, genuinely probably saved my life But don’t take my word for it. Every human triumph in history has been people working together. Our species has evolved to be social, connected, intertwined. People are stronger together and united… well we can do anything. But if we don’t have time for the people around us, how are we ever going to get out of this mess? So do something real, starting today, walk home unplugged, earphones hanging satisfyingly out of your ears, eyes up. Ready to smile. Ready to make the world a little brighter.
You and your neighbour have more in common than you think, but it takes two seconds less of stressing, two seconds more of being adventurous, to find that out. So, take a deep breath, be brave, and take those two seconds to say hello. You never know, you might learn something. You might save a life. Or it might even be the start of a beautiful friendship…
Isabella is a student in Glasgow and a children’s yoga teacher. Growing up on Loch Fyne, home of Scapa Fest, she has a passion for nature and the wonder of Scottish wilderness. She was inspired to write this piece after moving from a small rural village to the ‘big city’, after a personal battle with mental illness, and being confronted with the loneliness of today’s tech crazy city culture. The aim of the article is to remind us to enjoy every moment of life and to appreciate and respect everyone and everything around us.