Simple act of waving creates a sense of connection | Guest Column | April 22
April 21, 2011 · 4:26 PM
A friend of mine told me a story about a man who lived on Bainbridge six years ago who used to walk in the morning to the Lynwood area of our island. He would wave to cars and people as he walked. He’d count the number who waved back. Usually 48 out of 50 did so.
When he moved back here recently, he walked the same route and found that the percentage of people who waved or didn’t had reversed. This wasn’t a scientific experiment, but it is perhaps a gauge of the amount of isolation that seems to be increasing on Bainbridge Island and other places in the world.
I teach an Interpersonal Communications class at Olympic College in Poulsbo and in the first week of class, broached the subject of waving. For a first paper with many writing options, five of the students chose to replicate and/or adapt the practice of waving to strangers and write about it. Some rode bicycles, some walked and one rode a motorcycle. All of them reported a lack of waving and human connection and all spoke of the pleasure of getting a wave returned. Most of the writers quickly realized that a smile before the wave received more responses. Further, they spoke of the rewards of exchanging a wave – an ensuing smile, sometimes shared, and warmth that issued from a brief encounter with someone they didn’t know and most likely would never see again. One writer spoke of “...finding community in a world of strangers” which for me is one of the goals of education: to broaden our connection to other cultures and other people, which includes members of our society, our neighbors.
The phenomenon of exclusion is an interesting byproduct of our culture which has its roots in many soils. Newer cars have tinted windows, like limos for celebrities, so they can see out but no one can see in. The number of people who are self-involved and separate from what used to be a more shared world increases with the use of electric devices that captivate and capture us in our own detached world, whether that be an MP3 player, a cell phone or a computer screen. Ironically, devices that are conceived and marketed to increase communication and connection often do the opposite by making us strangers to the people we encounter in the non-virtual world. Think of the difference between a Facebook posting and a conversation over coffee at Blackbird, Pegasus or Bainbridge Bakers. It’s the difference between watching a game and playing it.
I like waving to people. As a youngster, I used to wave at my mom when I went off to school. When people leave our house, my wife and I always wave at them from our driveway. When Merry and I leave each other in the morning, we wave at each other. It’s a good thing.
I propose we extend this good thing to all corners of the island – at the ferry dock, as we walk through the torn up streets of Winslow because we know the merchants down there need us to survive the next months, on the roads we walk and the paths we take. To lift an arm in hello or greeting can lift a heart, raise a spirit. It can be a form of communal magic and most importantly, it involves the people we don’t know but accept as a member of our tribe, as fellow travelers who we simply raise a hand to in greeting. It’s a personal act of inclusion that can help lessen isolation.
It is beyond question that we live in our own worlds of anxieties, problems, woes, obligations and duties. It’s also beyond question that we need each other – not only to survive but thrive and that a place that’s open and friendly is far better to live in than a place of concrete faces and closed minds and hearts. It’s a warm reach, not a cold fish.
“The stone orchard celebrates too little, not too much,” John Steinbeck said of the cemetery and referring to love.
“Hand on waves” is a phrase I see in two ways: the raising of a hand and the way that one wave can generate another, even as a tide continues forward with each wave.
I’m going to start waving at people I see when we’re separate even if they don’t wave back. I will keep waving, having faith that most people will join me in the spirit of brotherhood, sisterhood and community once they realize how and why to do it and join the Hand On Waves movement which won’t be a movement until we join together.
Bob McAllister, Island Treasure