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Good morning. Did you notice that? Good Morning.

It’s such a common greeting that we often fail to notice we’re making it.   Or receiving it.

A mark of ordinary civility which we can miss while we’re not paying attention. But in an era where public discourse is coarsened – not least on social media – simple civility could do with making a comeback.

This week Conservative leadership candidates have backed what they call a ‘Clean Campaign Pledge’ – promising not to ‘speak ill’ of each other and not to ‘engage in personality attacks’.

Civility begins in simply noticing each other, paying each other respectful attention as we make our ways.  For example in the act of saying good morning – even to a stranger.

In the past year I’ve been conducting an ad-hoc anecdotal experiment, intentionally saying good morning to strangers as I walk to the bus or get the milk

Looking people in the eye, singing my two syllable greeting as I pass.

Morning.’     A man looks up at me this first time, a little, incredulous.

Morning.’  This next person is surprised, maybe baffled.

The expression on another face is making a calculation: ‘Is this man getting the help he needs?’

I persevere and am rewarded with a smile, a nod of the head, a small courtesy.

Sometimes people seem to jump physically from the world inside their phone.

One word, plus eye contact, a small act of resistance against the anonymity of our urban village.

Perhaps dog walkers have an advantage – their pets, in general, being less reserved, more social, persuading their adult companions into reluctant communication.

It’s often said that in mega cities like London, people are less likely to greet each other than elsewhere in the country – more likely to shun eye-contact,    to look down,    to walk on.

But why shouldn’t we greet each other just because we don’t know each other? Some miniature insurrection, in favour of connection.

Social connection is vital for our wellbeing, to feel we are noticed and included. A study by the Association for Psychological Science a few years back found that even simple eye contact is enough to convey inclusion…  while withholding it implies exclusion.

The people we pass all day long, on pavements and paths, are engaged in all kinds of invisible narratives, hidden dramas of joy and sadness. Just like our own.

A simple greeting may alter the trajectory of their day – a signal that strangers are only friends… who we have yet to meet.

This is the day, says the ancient psalmist, rejoice and be glad in it.

She understood that with a smile and a word, we recognize our own good fortune in waking to another day.


((BBC R4 Thought For The Day June 1 2019)