I’m sitting at the tire store this morning. Waiting for new tires to be installed. There are four of us sitting around a table with a large TV up on the wall. We don’t know each other. The TV is reporting local news of a stabbing in a nearby town, updating us on the Mayor being under investigation, those type of things. I look at the other three people. They are staring blankly at the TV.
Does this situation sound familiar?
Then I had an urge. I had an urge to pick up the remote and ask the other three people if they would mind if I turned off the TV and the four of us talked. Just thinking about this concept took my heartbeat up a few ticks. Even though I do this on a regular basis in men’s groups, I’ve never attempted to do this in this setting.
Put yourself in the shoes of the other three. How would you react?
I continued playing the scenario out in my head. I’d say “I figure we have some time to spend in this waiting room either way so why don’t we just share our names, where we live, and what we are having done to our cars now?”
Would the other three go along with it? Would they tell me to mind my own business? Would they say to leave the TV on and shut up? Would they report me to the desk clerks around the corner? Or would they get up and leave?
There are so many outcomes that are possible.
The default behavior in these type settings is to do exactly as we were doing. Just like elevators, dentist offices, trains, and the line at the supermarket; we have evolved in modern society to build a little cone of silence around ourselves and bide our time until we are around someone we already know. Only then can we open up and have interaction.
What are we afraid of? What is at risk? Many of us talk about how little time we have for interesting things in our lives yet we let precious minutes and even hours go by in these self enforced cone of silence/ holding cells.
Then I did a little wishful thinking.
Maybe it’s because of my amazing experiences doing peace work in prison, where the whole concept of presence and time gets turned on its head. Where the worst case scenario of life in prison becomes, for some inmates, the path to a life of true remorse and true meaning.
So I’ve been exposed to wishful thinking that actually produces positive outcomes.
Let’s say the tire store “check-in” were to unfold with everyone still in their chairs having shared their names, towns and car ailments. Yes, they are plenty freaked out that this weirdo is making us talk to each other, but they feel jolted awake. The conversation continues (the strangers are missing out on fast food and carpet store ads that they would have half absorbed on CNN if the TV had still been on) and one learns that another’s child goes to the same elementary school as theirs. The conversation moves to what the now acquaintances like to do in the summer. Advice on area pools is shared. Appreciations are shared, contact information is exchanged.
You get the picture. Surely this is somewhat of a “stretch” example. But not that bizarre. After all, it’s as simple as eye contact and initiating conversation. So even if we started small and just said hello in a non standard setting, we would be setting the course uplifting possibilities.