I enjoyed the various responses I received from my recent blog post Hello!, where I discussed how connecting with people in public settings is a necessary preliminary step to creating lasting change in the world. It seemed to have inspired many, as well as trigger some deeper feelings and concerns.
Paul from Oakland, California commented: “It’s a good reminder. That happens in my neighborhood. The many first generation cultures only amps it further up. So with that I’m going to set aside this computer and visit a neighbor.”
David of San Francisco says: “As always, Joe, yours is a welcome voice of compassionate reason. I think one of the challenges in greeting people and connecting with them (although I do it constantly in a way that would, I hope, make you proud), is my fear of finding myself emotionally overcommitted to the world. The level of simple greeting feels relatively ’safe.’ Beyond that, though, I fear that if I care about *everybody*, I’m going to be overdrawn at the commitment/compassion bank by the end of the day.”
I think this is a valid response and perhaps one of the reasons many people choose not to engage with others. As I mention in my book, having an openhearted connection doesn’t mean you should always be totally open.
There are not just two switches on your heart: “open” and “close.” I recommend you develop a more intricate “switchboard” or “dimmer switch” when engaging with others. What this means is that it is possible to be open, but every interaction requires you to always discern and then adjust how open you should be. For some, a simple nod or smile is enough; for others, a deeper level of involvement. In our busy, urban lives, a balance between connection and self-care is the key to success and longevity in any endeavor.
My favorite response is from Michael from DC. He says: “One reason people may not be engaging you is because they are afraid of you, though don’t take it personally. DC is brutish, polarized and competitive, and people may not want to engage someone who might be hostile. Further, DC is very transactional in its relationships. Thus, if one feels weak or they have nothing to trade, then they may be reticent to engage. So quit scaring everyone you meet!”
This is useful information. There are many reasons why people choose not to engage with strangers. They could be frightened, they could be shy, they could be having a bad day. Some people might feel that they will lose themselves and burn out, they could be late for an appointment, they could feel like they have nothing to offer and not worthy, or they could just not like people.
We need wisdom and caution when engaging. If you feel your safety is at risk, of course you keep to yourself. If engaging is going to trigger someone and end up with more bad feelings, then make the wise choice and move on.
We all have fears and insecurities and reasons that keep us from asserting our truth and our desire to contribute to a more peaceful world. Jimmy Carter said, “If you fear making anyone mad, then you ultimately probe for the lowest common denominator of human achievement.” In the Respectful Confrontation method I spend a lot of time delineating between assertiveness and aggression. If my intention is to uplift, empower and bring us closer together, I will take that risk that some people might get upset, and I will subsequently work through the consequences. This seems like hard work; but it seems worth it, compared to the alternative, which is to keep quiet and watch how our disconnect disempowers those in need and perpetuates suffering.
Consider what it would take for each of us to muster up the courage to overcome the things that hold us back, and step into our True Power in order to play our part in the unfolding of a more unified future. What is called for is a deep level of presence and staying aware of yourself, your surroundings and others at all times so you can make informed choices in each moment. This requires a balance between self-care and the commitment to have a positive impact on others.