It's surely no surprise that I'm not a fan of the slogan Make America Great Again. As a friend put it, "I'm gonna need you to define what you mean by 'make,' 'America,' 'great,' and 'again.'"
Then I decided that I could co-opt the sentiment and make it mean what I think it should mean. What small concrete things can I do to make the world around me a little kinder, more just, and more beautiful?
My answer to that question will sometimes bear little resemblance to the sensibilities of the original author of "make America great again." Oh well.
And large concrete things will also be needed. But we start where we start.
One small thing I'm trying to do (likely non-controversial, with strong bipartisan support) is to get out of the bubble of my own internal thoughts and actually greet people with whom I cross paths. In the past, I would always respond when greeted, letting them take the lead, but I would usually not initiate.
You know? It feels good to take the first step. (That's something I've learned from improv too--if you find yourself wondering if you should jump in, that's your sign to jump in.) We're not talking long conversation--I respect people's right not to engage--just a initiating hello, and short pleasantries if they pick it up. Here in Northern Virginia, we have a very diverse population, with people from all over the world, in addition to folks from both sides of the Mason-Dixon line. Acknowledging one another builds community, albeit in a small way. (That said, the cultural norms around greeting are fascinating, and something I'm only starting to learn more about. Here's a fun article about it.)
My running group got into a conversation recently about different running routes and how people are friendlier on some than others. I found this bizarre! (And true.) Burke Lake Park is super friendly. I do a lot of running on the W&OD trail and it's a mixed bag, with most people not even acknowledging a simple hello or "good morning." (Notable exception: the guy who passed me last week while it was 20 degrees with 40 mph gusts. His zesty "Yeah! Running! Woohoo!" made the terrible cold much more bearable and brought a smile to my frozen face. And yes, I responded in kind, probably with a dorky "How awesome are we??")
Yesterday morning some friends and I ran nine miles on the W&OD, and I decided to say "good morning" to every person we passed. (It's also a good way to ensure you're not going too fast--a simple "good morning" should be easy!) We got maybe a 35% response rate.
I'll be honest, it's kind of deflating to be unacknowledged. I wondered if I should just surrender to the culture of the W&OD.
This may seem like a small thing, but this particular trail has been problematic for women recently, with a series of harassing incidents and even an attempted sexual assault. (You may be shocked how common it is.) So when is a greeting not just a greeting? When I as a woman need you to acknowledge that I'm out there. When I want to acknowledge that I've seen you as well.
When we're all in this together. However we may define "this."
So I'm going to keep saying hello.