I kind of wonder, sometimes, what’s happening out there in the (cruel) world. Example: I take Metrolink Trains to and from work most days - driving is impossible in Southern California. What used to be a 30 minute trip now will drag on for an hour and a half. I’d prefer to get to work with a peaceful head ready for the day’s challenges. Driving doesn’t give me peace; train riding does. I can read the paper, chat with people (although that doesn’t happen as much as it used to), or, pray thee, work! But, regardless of what I do while riding, every day I think of the words, “Ah, look at all the lonely people” (Lennon/McCartney).
Are these strangers, at least most of them, really lonely? I don’t know, but I’m guessing yes, or at least some variety of lonely like shy, introverted, whatever. I entertain (in a manner of ways, sure) people on my little corner of the platform as we wait for the train. Our group is getting bigger, although slowly. I spark conversations, say funny (at least I think they are) things, and get people away from their cell phones. Those roughly five minutes of waiting each day liven things up.
But what about all the others, the 200 to 300 souls standing there reading their phones? I’ve been experimenting as I walk to my train platform comfort zone. A young woman stands back against the fence, as far away from the train tracks as possible. She’s been riding the train for a couple of years. She does her best to not get eye contact (at least that’s what it seems like from my perspective). My experiment has been for the last couple of months to say, “Good morning,” as I pass her. To my surprise, starting from day one, she responds with a greeting of her own, something like, “Good morning to you, too,” or a bright and cheery, “Hello!”
That makes me think, are all those lonely looking people really all that lonely? Maybe with so many humans on the train they simply don’t feel like interacting. Maybe. In the early days of train transportation, over 20 years ago, people intermingled a lot more. Talking was a given. We’d give each other Christmas gifts, go out for drinks, interchange work ideas. We formed communities. Trains were alive with conversation.
Nowadays, you’ll be surprised to hear anyone say anything on the train. In fact, Metrolink has what they call a Quiet Car, where no one is allowed to make any noise. A friend of mine and I accidentally stepped on the Quiet Car, carrying on in conversation. You’d think we were guilty of the unpardonable sin! We moved onto a (slightly) noisier car. Plus, in the name of safety, the seat backs are higher and packed in two by two, leaving less opportunity to chat from the older four-by seats (two seats facing two other seats).
Actually, I wish an answer was out there as to why these people are so lonely-looking, so quiet and non-communicative. My workplace is built on conversation. In fact, I can’t think of any shy people, although I’m sure a couple have to be out there somewhere. And, we’ve grown, too, changing from 3,000 to 5,000 employees in the late 70s to over 30,000 folks today. (Sorry, I don’t know all of them although I feel like, in the 70s, I used to.) I know that in the workplace, leadership participation in the flow of things can really get people to conversing with fellow employees and clients.
I’m guessing that many of my work employees are equipped with higher self-esteem and pride. My train folks, not so sure. But, I do know that many of my train compatriots are lawyers, doctors, police, nurses, engineers, mechanics, and so forth. I’m guessing that their self-esteem levels are fairly high, although it doesn’t show on the train.
So, what does this mean to us on the side who are trying to figure out the working world? The answer: don’t make assumptions (judgments) about much of anything. We don’t know other’s lives. We don’t know their happiness or their loneliness. We don’t know how they confront their issues. If you find someone who responds and you enjoy the conversation, go for it. Converse. Enjoy it while you can, then move on when the environment changes. Sure, it’s a complicated world we live in, but not so complicated that we can’t find something between us to connect. We’re not on this earth very long. I suggest we make the most of it while we can, otherwise we will fall apart in our older days.
Thanks for listening… “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” Ralph Waldo Emerson.