I kind of wonder, sometimes, whatís 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. Iíd prefer to get to work with a peaceful head ready for the dayís challenges. Driving doesnít give me peace; train riding does. I can read the paper, chat with people (although that doesnít 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, ďAh, look at all the lonely peopleĒ (Lennon/McCartney).
Are these strangers, at least most of them, really lonely? I donít know, but Iím 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? Iíve 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. Sheís been riding the train for a couple of years. She does her best to not get eye contact (at least thatís what it seems like from my perspective). My experiment has been for the last couple of months to say, ďGood morning,Ē as I pass her. To my surprise, starting from day one, she responds with a greeting of her own, something like, ďGood morning to you, too,Ē or a bright and cheery, ďHello!Ē
That makes me think, are all those lonely looking people really all that lonely? Maybe with so many humans on the train they simply donít feel like interacting. Maybe. In the early days of train transportation, over 20 years ago, people intermingled a lot more. Talking was a given. Weíd give each other Christmas gifts, go out for drinks, interchange work ideas. We formed communities. Trains were alive with conversation.
Nowadays, youíll 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. Youíd 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 canít think of any shy people, although Iím sure a couple have to be out there somewhere. And, weíve grown, too, changing from 3,000 to 5,000 employees in the late 70s to over 30,000 folks today. (Sorry, I donít 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.
Iím 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. Iím guessing that their self-esteem levels are fairly high, although it doesnít 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: donít make assumptions (judgments) about much of anything. We donít know otherís lives. We donít know their happiness or their loneliness. We donít 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, itís a complicated world we live in, but not so complicated that we canít find something between us to connect. Weíre 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 listeningÖ ďWhat lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.Ē Ralph Waldo Emerson.