First, I wish you and your families well. What I am about to share is not a generalization and not even a criticism but merely an observation. Maybe a personal opinion, or at least a point of curiosity. I love where I am, most of the people around me, appreciate what we have and are proud of the values we stand for. But it’s been almost exactly three years since I have shared a post so stay with me for a bit.
Protests, gatherings, and activism are on the rise in the US and around the world on various issues. That’s great because civic involvement means people care about issues. Yes, some would argue we don’t do enough but I digress. For now, I wanted to talk about a different kind of indifference. Something may be smaller or closer to home but worthy to mention.
One of the things that stood out to me while being here in the US compared to my other home country of the Philippines (PH) is how much fewer people here smile at each other. Granted, I spent much of my university days in a city known as “the City of Smiles” (Bacolod City); I can still say that it’s true in most of the country; from the larger cities to the sparse countryside. Whether it’s a rich neighborhood or a less privileged one, be it smiling to strangers, or even just the general sense of being a little vulnerable to others (sometimes in the form of out-of-tune karaoke singing); at least to me the difference is notable. In the US, when you smile in public, it sometimes feels like they look at you wrong.
Over time, however, I began to think that maybe it’s more than just smiles. It is in the small things such as whenever you let someone ahead first as you intersect shopping carts in the grocery store or the parking lot; many times there is not even a nod or acknowledgment. The person just moves on as if nothing happened or that they were entitled to whatever it is I didn’t have to do but did anyway. I am not looking to be rewarded for giving way or saying “Oops, my bad”; but a smile or a nod would have been nice. It’s very different from what I grew up to; where the awkwardness of a near collision shifts to a friendly apology, then a hand gesture to let the other person move past and a smile or even a thank you. Yes, train stations, airports, and roads in the Philippines are too crowded, disorderly, and feel like a war zone so it’s not great either when resources are scarce but on a random day in the grocery store or parking lot, people see each other.
As a person of color, I give people the benefit of the doubt of not knowing how to act around me sometimes (maybe it’s not easy given the sensitivities of today) but it’s probably not that because I’ve seen it happen to others that’s not like me. I lean slightly more introverted than extroverted as well so I am not the most harm-warming person either. I suck at giving gifts, inviting people over, or even remembering the birthdays of people I care about. But I do my best to see people, look them in the eyes, and appreciate them. Occasionally, they do as well and it warms my heart.
Maybe some of this is fear, insecurity, or the person just happens to be in a bad place at that time. Looking people in the eye after all and smiling could make some feel unsafe or too vulnerable or too preoccupied that noticing may be a luxury. These are possibilities. I do hope they find that security though because without that it becomes a bit difficult to form a community.
I do hope those of us who can, despite our challenges and through our actions; show the next generation, our children to see and acknowledge others. A healthy cautiousness but not always assume bad intent. To acknowledge differences but find common ground too. To not mistake kindness for weakness. To be fair and just but also kind; towards others and also to ourselves. They say there is an epidemic of loneliness nowadays. The good news is that acknowledging others and showing kindness is free and would go a long way.
May your 2024 be better than ever.