I have made a conscious attempt to become friendlier during this pandemic period. It doesn’t take a lot of work to become friendlier—only a belief in the importance of friendliness. Few people would say they don’t believe in friendliness, and yet not everyone’s actions support this belief. Some people behave as if they have something to lose by being friendly. I behaved this way the other day when a group of teens were walking too close to me. I glared at them as if they were criminals, even though they were just a bunch of young guys who were eager for their lives to return to normal.
You don’t need to be the most extroverted person on the planet to become friendlier. All you need is to be willing to give a sincere wave or smile. If you find that you are unwilling to do this, you owe it to yourself to look at what might be getting in the way. It’s possible that you are holding a grudge because of a time when people weren’t so friendly to you. A part of my job as a psychologist is to help people let go of their grudges. Needless to say, it’s hard to let go of something until you realize that you’re actually holding onto it. And it’s also hard to help people let go of what you might be still holding onto yourself.
There are times when I still feel like an angry teenager inside, even though there is nothing teenage about me on the outside. As a teen, I would never back down from a fight. I was like our dog, a Lab-Shar-Pei mix. I didn’t have any Shar-Pei—a breed of Chinese guard dog—in me when I was growing up. I just had my father in me. He raised me to stand up to any bully. I was loyal to my upbringing and eventually stood up to him. I was fourteen when I went to a Sadie Hawkins Dance against his wishes. He threatened to harm me if I disobeyed him. I went to the dance anyway because I didn’t want to disappoint the girl who asked me—and because I didn’t believe I deserved to be punished for coming home five minutes late to dinner.
Although this coronavirus is bullying all of us, we can’t afford to let it turn us into bullies ourselves. We can’t even afford to let it turn us into guarded people. A smile can mean so much to someone who is feeling isolated—and make you feel less isolated in the process. The social distancing we are all experiencing is unnatural. As people, we are wired for social connection. Think of friendliness not only as something you do for another person, but also as an exercise in deepening your own connection with humanity.