31st January 2017: Day 12 - The Eyes Have It
2016 was a year of travel for me. I went to 5 different countries and 2 of them, Nigeria and America, I went to more than once. While I was out in all those countries I noticed a difference in the way people relate to each other, in that people say hello as they pass each other on the street and if you interact with someone, a shop assistant, for instance, you say hello and maybe ‘how are you?’ as well. I noticed this not because people were being especially friendly (which to me they were), but because I very naturally adopted this habit in those countries. You see, I’m the complete opposite in London; closed off, in my own world, focused on getting to my destination.
Every once in a while, as I’m walking down the street someone will say hello to me or good morning. I usually reward them with a blank stare because it takes a moment to realise they are talking to me or because my instinctive response is ‘what are they after?’ I felt a bit bad about that.
So, building on my success of yesterday, and wanting to keep the new improved and open Taiwo going for a bit longer I decided that today I would say hello to each person I came across as I walked to the train station. What I found was fascinating. I couldn’t say good morning to anyone because I couldn’t catch their eye. As they walked by their eyes were fixed at a point in front of them and they didn’t look at me or in my direction. I considered walking right in front of them and eyeballing them but didn’t really want to get punched in the face this morning (maybe another day), so I kept walking and kept trying to catch their eye without success. I didn’t take it personally, in fact I’m sure I was doing it wrong, maybe looking a bit too intently or something.
I arrived at the station and, of course, there were delays and cancellations so my objective changed to trying to get a train out of there and when the train came, making sure I got a seat. As a result I forgot about my challenge until I came out of the station and headed for my walk along the South Bank.
‘Ah,’ I thought, ‘there’ll be tourists here, they’ll look at me and at least smile.’ But the people I came across didn’t look my way, they too just stared straight ahead, intent on reaching their destination (to be fair there was a very light drizzle). A couple of times I just smiled on the off chance someone would turn their heads but I suspect they saw me in their peripheral vision which strengthened their resolve to look ahead for fear of what they may see in my eyes or something.
Despite my failure I resolved to try it again later on in the day.
I completely forgot my intention as I walked to get the bus home, I had, in effect, reverted back to my old habits – headphones in my ears, staring ahead like the rest of the world around me. I remembered on the bus and at the end of the ride I decided I would give it one more shot.
I got off and was walking towards my flat and I saw him. He looked like he would meet my eye then I smile at him and maybe even say hello. I walked towards him and his lips started moving as he said
I was about to say hi back when he continued talking and my immediate thought was he’s talking to himself, which he was. My next thought therefore was don't catch his eye. After I walked past him, it struck me that he probably wasn't talking to himself, in all likelihood he was talking to someone on the phone or he may have been, like I do sometimes, rapping along to the Hamilton soundtrack. Whatever he was doing, I lost the opportunity and each person I encountered as I went on my way simply looked ahead and didn’t catch my eye.
But I will not be defeated, I will try again. Maybe I should start small. Maybe I should start by saying hello to the people I encounter in the shops and ask how they are. I’d like to let them know that I see them, I see a human being and I’m not so absorbed with my world and my needs that I can’t acknowledge you as another person. And when I’ve mastered that I can tackle the person on the street.
There’s a lot of divisiveness in our world at the moment. Maybe if we can do our little bit; connect with people we don’t usually connect with, be kind to those we aren’t usually kind to. Maybe if we’re each just a little more aware of our corner of the world then we can, as a mass, replace the messages that threaten violence and hate with love and care.
Who’s with me?