Here’s an experiment in human relations you can do: Walk down the street and as you pass people, smile at them and attempt to engage their eyes without a greeting. Very few people will actually look at you and acknowledge that you are on the same planet let alone within an arm’s length of each other.
We tend to lock the doors of our lives for the same reason we lock the doors to our homes, to keep us safe from unwanted, unknown intruders. Even though most of us don’t look like axe murderers, the strangers we pass by everyday seldom acknowledge us nor do we acknowledge them. We feel safer when we move at a quick pace with our arms crossed about our chest and our eyes cast downward. It’s the natural thing to do, I suppose, to protect our selves. And who’s to criticize, what with all the nightly news reports of kidnappings, murders, and bizarre incidents.
I’m not talking about the acute fear of strangers referred to as Xenophobia; I’m talking about the normal, everyday experience of protecting ourselves from those we don’t know or don’t want to know. Socially healthy people willingly open a door or two of their hearts from time to time.
I’ve identified seven reasons socially healthy people open their private heart doors to others. They are: to play, to abate loneliness, to calm fears, to work, to solve problems, to grow, and to love. I will discuss one area each week for the next six weeks. Here’s the first…
The First Time We Open Our Lives to Others is to Play
It was a hot day in August, 1956 in Council Bluffs, Iowa when I saw a moving truck at the big white house across our back yard and on the other side of the street. After the truck left I noticed a kid about my age sitting on the front porch steps. He looked terribly lonely there all by himself. I could almost feel him calling me to invite him over. Bravely, I walked through the vacant lot and up to his porch and introduced myself. He was quite happy to have found a new friend in this big town he had just moved to.
As children we actually ache for friendship, so are quite good at welcoming strangers into our lives. We want playmates. We ask our mother if we can go over to our friend’s house to play or if they can come and spend the night with us. As we grow, we let others into our lives to play when we join a club, play team sports, or develop personal friendships based on hobbies or other leisure pursuits.
And it’s good for us. When we play we learn about life. We learn to share, to win, to lose, to fight, to make peace, and to compromise. We discover that people are different and that some are nice and some are not. We discover appropriate and inappropriate behavior.
Through play and friendship we discern the unwritten laws of the relational universe. We find outlets for our aggression, we develop problem solving skills, we find relief from stress, we learn about our own likes and dislikes.
As we age, we become more cautious. As we “grew up” and as we played with others we learned that some people ridicule us, exclude us, ignore us, gossip about us, or find our tender spot and go out of their way to hurt us. So when outside of our comfort zone of trusted friends and loved ones, we fold our arms across our chest, cast our eyes downward, and pick up our pace.
Only if we could, like innocent children, interact and enjoy each other’s company without suspicion about intentions, uncertainty about the prudence of the connection, or fear of being hurt. Wouldn’t it be grand if we could regain our innocent, childlike interest in others? Our lives would be better and the world would be a better place to live, don’t you think?
PS: That boy I met over 40 years ago is still my friend – only now he’s my Facebook friend.
Next week: Reason No. 2: To Abate Loneliness
- How do YOU Express Your Anger Part 2
- Seven Reasons We MIGHT Open The Doors of Our Lives to Others – Reason #2: To Abate Loneliness