Jenny recently happened upon a blog post by Rob Myers titled “There’s a Way to Stop Mass Shootings, and You Won’t Like It,” and she immediately shared it with me. What Rob asserts in the post is revolutionary and instantly makes so much sense. He suggests that the way to stop mass shootings is to “Notice those around you who seem isolated, and engage them.”
Myers continues, “If every one of us did this we’d have a culture that was deeply committed to ensuring no one was left lonely. And make no mistake, as I’ve written before loneliness is what causes these shooters to lash out. People with solid connections to other people don’t indiscriminately fire guns at strangers.”
This also reminded me of an article that appeared in “Psychology Today” which noted that someone considering suicide may decide not to go through with it after receiving a simple smile from a stranger. The article, “How Can You Stop a Suicide” conveys the following stories:
“Kevin Hines, who miraculously survived a suicide attempt jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge, later recounted that he paced the bridge for an hour, crying, hoping and praying that one person would ask him what was wrong. He said he would have told them everything. In a chilling diary entry, another person who died by suicide left the message that if one person smiled at him on his walk that day, he wouldn’t kill himself.”
What these two posts bring to light is that human interaction is a critical component to personal well being and the well being of our community. In-person interaction creates connections that prevent indifference and ignorance, and importantly, enhances accountability to create a more harmonious community.
So, how do we generate more personal interaction in our everyday lives?
- Limit mobile device use when out and about – Our mobile devices occupy so much of our time that we sometimes forget to come up for air. Many of us immediately take to our phones when we’re waiting in a line, at a restaurant, and even when we’re walking. This takes our attention away from our surroundings and basic human interaction. Make eye contact, smile and say hello with those you pass by throughout the day. Hold the door open for the person behind you.
- Expand your zones – It’s easy to fall into the habit of socializing with the same group of people at work, school, church, etc. Make it a point to introduce yourself to someone new and have a chat. You know how we can be comfortable as creatures of habit and prefer sitting in the same seat at church, in class, on the bus, at a coffee house, etc.? Once in a while, change it up. Move around so that you cross paths with different people.
- Deepen service conversations – Service conversations are interactions you have with people providing you a service. Whether it’s the receptionist at your doctor’s office, cashier at a convenience store, bus driver, bank teller, etc., move beyond the average “Hi. How are you?” semantics. Many of these people cater to customers all day long. It’s always nice for them to receive a thank you or a compliment, such as “I love your nail polish color. Where did you get it?” You may not create a significant connection in the first short conversation you have, but more than likely, you will happen upon the person regularly and gradually grow a familiarity with each other. Soon you will have service friends at you favorite businesses, and these interactions will brighten both of your days.
- Get in the “helper” mind frame – Look for opportunities and be willing to help someone in need. Stop for pedestrians wanting to cross the street, let someone with fewer items than you have go ahead of you in the check out line, pick up an item dropped by an individual, offer to help someone carrying a heavy load, etc. A helping hand goes a long way to produce feelings of worth and care to those in need.
- Teach your children to connect – On our drive to drop our son off to his elementary school today, I shared Myers’ theory with my husband and son. My husband immediately bought in to it, and we encouraged our son to notice children who may be off standing off to the side or not participating in conversation or playground activities and to say hello and invite them to play.
You never know how a reassuring look, small talk, gesture of help, or any other type of communication can make a difference in someone’s life, including your own. Encourage yourself to make positive connections throughout your day.