Ever since I could remember my Father always encouraged me to greet people whenever I ran into them.
To anyone and everyone. To that person I crossed path with down the street. To the person that was standing next to me in line. To my friends at school, to my teachers, to my neighbors, to everyone that I could.
He told me that it was such a simple thing, that could make all the difference in the world.
And he was completely right.
One day many decades ago my Dad was going to get his box of donuts. He was an independent wholesaler and his signature calling card was a pink box of donuts. He would always bring it to his favorite customers and of course, close the deal. He routinely had a box ready for him at a local bakery in San Pedro and he would stop by in the mornings and pick it up.
But this day was different.
As my Dad was walking into the store he crossed paths with a huge, scary-looking, black man.
Now reader, I avoid talking about race unless it is absolutely necessary, lest I want to stir up controversy, but trust.
My Father looked like your average white male. Not too muscular or anything, just looked like he worked a regular job and had a regular life. (Though my Dad was, and is, far from that lol) Anyways, this man that he crossed paths with was huge. Big, tough, and as may dad described, a just real mean-looking guy. The kind of person that you just don’t want to run into. The type who could just break you into two pieces without breaking a sweat.
You know what my Dad did when he saw him?
He greeted him with a great big smile, said “Good Morning!” and opened the door to the donut shop for him.
My Father told me the man looked at him with an expression that he would describe as a look of half scowl, but also of half surprise. The man went inside the bakery without saying a word to my father. My dad then followed inside into the packed bakery.
Now my Dad always had his box of donuts at the end of the counter waiting for him, as it was prepared ahead of time since he had a business account with the bakery, so unlike the Man with whom he had just spoken to, he skipped the line and went to pick them up.
Then this happened.
The Man seeing that my Dad was just in and out picking up his donuts and that he was about to leave the place in a just a minute said this across the room, to which everyone in the entire place could hear.
“Hey! I really appreciate you greeting me this morning.”
My Dad could tell that the Man had been incredibly moved by him. He replied,
“Wouldn’t it be nice if everybody did that?”
The Man replied back with a statement that sounded full of disbelief, in that he had never thought about a world where something like this was the case. He said,
“Yeah, it sure would.”
My dad then picked up his trusty box of donuts, and left the bakery. But not before he looked at the Man again and said his signature line,
My Father always told me that the Man, the same scary looking monster of a human being, took on the biggest smile he had ever seen and laughed.
My Father has never forgotten that moment, nor have I. The story struck such a cord with me that when I recount it, it is as if I was there in the bakery. And I remember it so vividly because of how important the story is, and what it means.
I really hate race. I really do. It’s such a shame. I just wish it wasn’t so. I hate how people think because of my background (being a white kid) that I think this and that I think that about other races. And that other people think this and think that because of their race or about other races. They don’t know me. I don’t know them either. Why can’t we just wait to judge until we get to know people?
I hate it.
I grew up in an area where I was truly fortunate. There were lots of people from different backgrounds and us as kids never ever even thought about race. To this day two of my best friends from First Grade are Chinese and Indian. I currently live with my Chinese friend and his family as I write this post.
I can truly say that growing up I was color-blind.
But as you get older, you see race. And you see the stereotypes and how people judge others. And you cannot get away from it. It’s everywhere you look. It’s on the streets, it’s on the news, it’s in how people speak, how they look, and even how they move.
And this was what probably happened every day to this Man. He looked like the hulk, he was already scary because of his sheer size, and then you add on that he was black and people likely were judging him every day thinking he was a bad dude, and in a gang, or some other kind of bullshit because of his race. He probably would walk down the street and routinely have people, likely whites, just bow their heads in fear, or worse walk to the other side of the street.
Can you imagine how that would feel?
I bet it was beyond terrible. And then after that happened a few times, he probably got angrier and angrier because likely the guy was super nice inside! But everyone judged him by what he looked like and what they thus associated with him based on his appearance, and he probably hit a point where he thought,
“well if they think I’m a monster maybe I will just be one.”
From that point on he probably carried that scowl with him everywhere he went.
Until he met my Dad.
I cannot say this for certain, but based on the reaction that this Man gave my Father and from the account I have been told, there is a high degree of probability that the Man was thinking or feeling something along these lines. He probably saw my Dad walking to the bakery door, as was he, and thought to himself,
“Another white guy who thinks I’m just a mean, up to no good, black guy.”
It is so sad, but it is so deeply understandable. How could I even begin to argue with the sentiment? I know how people act. They act in that way. They reinforce these terrible stereotypes through their mannerisms every day, through things like ducking their heads and looking down at the side-walk when they would walk past him. And you know what? I understand why, they are scared because of the stereotype. But they should replace their fear with courage. Stand up straight, and instead of looking at the ground, look them in the eye and do what my Father did.
Do what this Man thought was unimaginable. Something that nobody ever did to him. Something so easy that anyone could have done it, but no one ever did. He just simply greeted him with a smile and said,
And that struck deeply. My Dad always told me he knew that that was a moment for that man. After all, he shouted to thank my Father all the way across the packed bakery. It’s those kind of remarks where someone says something across a room, with no regard to what’s happening around them, when you know it meant something. They have something to say, and it is so important they say it, no matter what others think.
And what this man had to say was simply,
All people want to be acknowledged. We humans are social beings. We live amongst each other, and thus we should communicate with each other. When we don’t that is a terrible thing. Sometimes being ignored is the worst feeling in the world. There are times where I know for a fact that I would rather be hated than ignored. At least someone would be paying attention right? That’s why my Father said hello to everyone throughout his life and why he encouraged me to do the same.
Everyone is important.
And you can easily let them know that, just by saying hello. Your comment just might make their day. Or maybe their week. Or maybe their month. Or maybe even their entire life. And you just might be able to tell when it does.
My Dad knows for a fact that that Man never forgot that moment. And my Father never did either. Both of them carried that with them for the rest of their lives. And in that moment I know my Dad made a difference.
Imagine if everyone did that.
And is it really so hard? There are many projects out there where people say “imagine if we all pitched in!” But honestly, those projects often require a tremendous amount of effort, and it is just impractical to assume that everyone would pitch in and help make it a reality.
But here? This is easy.
Every one of you reading this has the power to acknowledge someone. There is no monetary deposit required. You don’t need to sacrifice anything. Just the next time you see someone, wherever you are, say hello to someone.
It is so simple.
And for those of you that are scared of talking to other people, I understand. I have been there before. But you know what? The more you talk to to people, the easier it gets, and soon it will come naturally. And further, you will make so many friends! People will be awestruck by you. You will be the light in their day, especially if you live in a small community where you start to see someone of these people regularly. You might even get to see the snowball effect that happens when you radiate kindness.
I tell you, kindness is infectious.
Other people will take notice. The fact that you extend yourself to them and acknowledge them will strike a chord. So many people have no one in their lives. They go to work and go home and anyone outside of those circles never says a word to them.
Just trust me on this. Put yourself out there and say hello to people. You will be surprised with what happens.
And you just might be able to change the world one “good morning” and one “keep smiling” at a time.
Go out and acknowledge others, and Keep Smiling,