A few weeks ago, while walking along a trail near my house, I was startled when a stranger said “hello”.
As he wheeled away on his journey, I realized my surprise was because I couldn’t remember the last time someone I didn’t know uttered a spontaneous greeting. But much more shocking was the realization that I couldn’t remember the last time I had acted likewise.
I grew up in a city where people said “hello” to each other. The pre-’90s Vancouver was a safe and open place where strangers acknowledged each other on the street with a nod, a smile or simple hello.
Living in a city noted for its friendliness was a source of pride to most Vancouverites. Sometimes these nodding acquaintances became people with whom a few words were shared at the green grocer, the bus stop or some other neighbourhood amenity.
Once in a while these relationships evolved into friendships. And once in a great while these casual greetings laid the foundation for relationships that took on the dimensions of a Nora Ephron romantic comedy.
(Note to self: Write screenplay titled “You Had Me at Hello”.)
More often a “hello” was just a “hello”, a simple friendly greeting between human beings who happened to be sharing the same sidewalk. It was nice. It provided a sense, no matter how fleeting, of community, general goodwill and connectedness.
Today, Vancouver is like most North American cities. People move about, avoiding eye contact, lest they have to interact with another pedestrian or transit user.
It might be fear, shyness, or perhaps the headphones are turned up to eleven, but increasingly there is little willingness to connect for even for a second.
How long is a second? Read this out loud: “One Mississippi.”
That’s about a second. It takes less time than that to have a positive human interaction – a social shot in the arm that will likely leave both parties feeling a little happier.
Could you imagine if everyone in Whistler started saying “hello” to visitors? In a couple of years we’d have a reputation for being the friendliest resort in North America.
The impact of this simple form of engagement could mean more repeat business, positive word of mouth and a truly great guest experience. Even if the lift lines were longer than they anticipated, they were disappointed that their $55 Mountain Mixed Grill didn’t include marmot cutlets or miffed when the hotel room next to theirs was occupied by a dozen sorority sisters on a stagette, guests would still say, “Well, there were a few glitches, but the people in Whistler were so nice.”
But potential economic results are a distant secondary reason for upping our daily “hello” quotients. While most guests would be tickled to receive a “hi” or a “hey”, so would our neighbours and the familiar faces we regularly see walking through the village.
Being acknowledged makes us feel like we belong to something greater. And not surprisingly, feeling like we belong makes a lot of things greater, from how we feel about ourselves to how we feel about our communities. Prolonged exposure to casual friendliness might even inspire some of us to increase our community engagement.
If you’d like Whistler to be a friendlier town, I challenge you to take the The Hello Pledge at http://www.thehellopledge.com and commit to using this simplest of community engagement tools.
It’s free, easy and comes with no strings attached. (Full disclosure: My partner, effervescent public engagement sorceress Mo Douglas, is the brain behind this idea.)
In the immortal words of The Partridge Family: “C’mon, get happy!” – one hello at a time.