The Oxymoron of Social Interaction
Why is it that we humans continually strive to remain strangers to one another?
When we are in a public place such as an elevator, each man and woman inside of it strains to not make eye contact with anyone else. It’s almost as though we fear social interaction and abhor the idea of getting to know someone that isn’t familiar to us.
Then on the opposite end of the spectrum, it is other people that bring the most enjoyment and the most meaning to our lives. A man with all of the power and riches in the world is nothing without other people to share it with. Nobody wants complete isolation, so why do we insist maintaining it on a day to day basis?
I was in San Francisco this past weekend and was riding the BART subway system to return back to Berkeley. The train car was stuffed to the brim with people because LoveFest, a festival full of neon-clothed, drugged out 15-55 yr olds, had just ended. It was so full that the driver of the train came on the loud speaker and announced that one of the doors was open and the train would go out of service if it was not closed. Looking around, it was obviously not any of the doors in our car and the feeling of frustration could be felt throughout the claustrophobic space.
As minutes went by, the driver came on the loud speaker several more time, each announcement more angry and whiny than the one before. The driver was throwing such a fit that the people around me started to laugh and make sarcastic comments about him. The entire train car had united in anguish and amusement towards the driver. Then all of the sudden the car lurched forward with a jump and we were off. A cheer erupted from what sounded to be every car in the whole train.
That feeling of community was nothing short of fantastic. People of all backgrounds, races, ages, beliefs and levels of sobriety humming at the same frequency. The common enemy (the driver) completely broke the usual self-inflicted isolation of each person riding in that train car. And it was awesome. Almost like we had worked together to achieve something great, even though it was just getting a subway car moving again.
Why can’t all social interactions be more like that?
This is one of life’s biggest oxymorons. Man is a social animal! We thrive at building connections between ourselves and others. Cooperation, friendship, relationships… all these were necessary components in the construction of everything we now know. Cities were not built by one man but by many working together, forging trust and familiarity.
And what’s even more amusing is considering what the worst possible outcome that could result from a little social interaction in that elevator. Maybe an short response, a blank stare? After all, chances are that person will remain a stranger and you will never see them again anyways. Who knows, that person might turn out to be your next business partner or even spouse? Perhaps they’ll point you in the direction of something you’ve been searching for. Maybe you will be able to help them in some way. All of these possible outcomes dwarf the chance of getting a rude response.
So I implore you to break the elevator rule and say something to someone. The worst you could do is a simple compliment. Anything. We’re all human swirling around in this crazy world together so why not making everyday encounters a little more enjoyable.
Every man and woman is completely unique and I believe you can learn something from anyone. Even the biggest of dolt, the smallest of personality, the most complex of individuals.
Go out and be human. And by that I mean be social.