“Don’t wait for people to be friendly. Show them how.” -Unknown
From what I can tell, my next door neighbor doesn’t make eye contact with anyone. For a while I thought she was just avoiding me, but I’ve observed that she’s like this with all of our neighbors. By keeping her eyes fixed on her feet, she never has to exchange pleasantries or smiles, let alone get into full-fledged conversations.
She always seems withdrawn and lethargic, and this makes me feel sad for her. I’ve been in that place before–and if she’s feeling anything like I did then, I know that it isn’t easy.
When I avoided eye contact, it was generally because I felt depressed and disconnected, or scared and guarded, or angry and cynical. Behind it all, there was fear, loneliness, and a deep, tragic longing for real, intimate connection.
Yet I rarely opened myself up to people because it made me feel vulnerable. After all, you never know what kind of person someone is when you don’t really know them. You don’t know if they’re friendly or kind.
But you also don’t know that they’re not.
The truth is that we’re really not all that different. We all occasionally walk around with things weighing on our minds. We all shut down sometimes when we’ve had a hard day. And we all want to feel safe to connect with each other, both superficially and meaningfully, so that we feel like we belong to something larger than ourselves.
Today if you see someone who appears unfriendly, remember: They may be hurting and desperately in need of a smile.
Photo by jrwooley6