I’ve recently had occasion to meet lots of new people while doing some work in Glasgow. It’s been a good reminder that there is reason to be optimistic about our world, because most people are lovely. The participants on the programmes I was running, the hotel and restaurant staff, taxi drivers, airport staff, fellow guests and travellers, and people on the street – all of them I encountered were friendly, helpful, and made my trips easier and more fun.
When we listen to the news of bad things people do, or when everyone seems to be going about the world in their own little bubble with their earplugs in and their eyes on their phone, it is easy to forget that our innate nature is social and friendly. Yet it often just takes a hello or a smile to break through the barriers we put between us and discover another human being just like us.
Those of you who know me may be thinking this is just me and my rose-tinted spectacles again! And to some extent that may be true. I do choose to view people in a certain way, to make assumptions that they are basically friendly and kind, and the effect of this is that most of them turn out to be that way! I have met thousands of people in my life and very few of them have been genuinely unpleasant.
When you think about it, you realise that most of us would prefer it if others found us likeable, but we tend to ‘play victim’ and wait to see how they react to us, if at all, before we start to show our colours. We are used to being judged by our appearance, our age, our race, our role, instead of starting with our shared human beingness. Yet our human beingness is what we all have in common: it’s what we all share no matter what our background, history or role.
And we all have the power to choose to view the other person as another human being just like us, to choose not to judge the book by its cover, to choose to treat that person as another potential friend. When we approach people with that attitude, most of them turn out to be lovely.
This is not soppy, or viewing the world through rose-tinted spectacles – it’s useful and selfish. Eliciting the kindness and friendliness of other people makes my life easier and more pleasant, and hopefully brightens their day too.
In the hotel I was staying in, there was an aphorism that came up on the tv screen when you went into your room: ‘Greet strangers as you would your best friend.’ Imagine if we all did that – we would change the world!