You are alone, walking leisurely up a sidewalk. Various noises fill in the absence of conversation. You look around and see trees, maybe buildings and cars. Now you turn your attention back to the vantage point ahead of you. A person turns a corner on the right and begins approaching you from a good distance.
After spending four seconds browsing through the same social media statuses from your previous addictive scrolling, you look up to make eye contact with the nearing stranger. To avoid staring you look down at your shoes as if they have suddenly piqued your interest.
The moment of truth comes, and you pass them by and they you. What were you doing?
The occurrence in those few moments is what I call, “brief social mannerisms.” I present this situation to you in hopes that you will begin to think about your intentional response to common, everyday interactions.
While entertaining the moment of truth, you may have seen yourself avoiding eye contact, looking at your phone or staring blankly ahead. Maybe you looked up to find the passing stranger occupying themselves with one of the previous actions. Do you care? Do they care? I care, but I don’t have the answer.
What I do know is that there is a connection to this disconnect amongst our individualistic and technologically driven culture.
It is understood that change is inevitable in a progressive society, and as such, we change together. The byproducts of our affective response to progress need attention. They are redefining what it means to be relational beings in society. It is true that without the individual, there can be no community, but what kind of community has been grown? How individualistic may we become?
What I am interested in is providing a setting for you to recognize that your response is intentional, and you have control over it. This sounds like an elementary reminder, but our responses have the potential to envelope seemingly unintentional habits and communication.
I presented the introduction situation to a handful of students to discuss brief social mannerisms. Each agreed that their responses and interactions depend upon their relationship with the person passing, as well as their current situation and mood. Some admitted to being intentional about not speaking or acknowledging the other person in passing.
Although we all do this at some point whether intentional or not, Rissa Willis commented that, “If there were not people around, there would not be a reason to say hello, but since they are in your presence, it feels intentional that they are ignoring you.”
Yes, interacting may seem awkward if they are a complete stranger, but it is only because you make it so. A great friend of mine once said, “Situations are only as awkward as you want them to be.”
Jacob Clodfedler discussed the possibility of these avoidances in light of personal growth. People may be too shy to make eye contact or to smile.
“The older I get,” Clodfedler reflects, “the more comfortable I get because I’m more self confident in who I am and my personality.”
Regardless of personality type, or personal embarrassment of smiling at another, it is sensible to be aware of what impression your response may output. Could the intimidating emotions that arise with passing a stranger stem from another place other than one’s personality or self growth?
Jacob Jones observed that, “Technology has given us an excuse to stay in a neutral position.”
Taking your phone out and “checking” it when there is no need at the very moment that you could be contributing to the natural social interaction of eye contact seems harmless enough, but is it? No bash on the tool of technology here, just consider how you use it. It is yours to decide.
Each of these explanations are merely opinions expressed in hopes that you will form one of your own whilst becoming more intentional and considerate of your own brief social mannerisms. Whether your encounters are hindered by personality, personal growth, the use of technology or relationship to the person, don’t let your new thoughts of intentions or non- intentions bog you down. After all, according to Nadia Bentley, “With short interactions, you don’t feel like there is going to be more than a few seconds, so why bother?”