Several months ago Isaac, Erin and I were out for our evening walk. I was pushing Isaac in his little toy car and was waving to cars that drove by and saying hello to people we passed. At one point, Erin turned to me and said something along the lines of “you really should have grown up in a small town”.
That got me thinking. A lot of what I’ve thought about since then is similar to an oratory I wrote in high school for debate that I presented dozens of times about being in touch with people around you. Even 13 years ago (yeah, I’m old) I argued that with the internet, computers, television and everything else around us we were growing more and more disconnected from those around us. Nowadays it’s common to not know our neighbors names, to not talk or acknowledge people around us. Since that time it’s gotten even easier to live your whole life not knowing the people close to you, ignoring those who are close by physically and live your life inside, with a computer, a smartphone and television.
And that’s not how I want Isaac to grow up.
I’m thankful that my parents didn’t let me have a video game console for years. I’m thankful that I was pushed to go over to friend’s houses seemingly every day (made easier by the fact that one of my best friends was literally a fence hop away). I’m thankful that I played sports and was, generally, pushed to make real connections.
THAT is what I want for Isaac.
When I take him for bike rides and give a wave to most every car that passes me and say hello to people I ride by, I’m constantly surprised by the number of people who ignore the gesture. Most people who are outside walking or running or doing yard work do wave or give me a head nod or something, but people in their cars are a crap shoot. I’d estimate that about 30-40% of the cars I wave at acknowledge my presence. If you break it down by age the percentage gets higher as the driver gets older. I credit that to older people not being as connected technologically as younger people. They’re less likely to be on their phone, they’re less likely to be changing the radio station (I’m a channel surfer. You play a commercial, you’re gone) or, in some cases, blatantly texting.
So as Isaac gets older, I’m going to keep on talking and greeting everyone I pass. I’m going to show him how rewarding it can be to interact with people you don’t know. How doing so can make a city as big as Houston feel smaller, can make the world that looks so horrible in the news seem like a good place to be. Sure there’s nothing wrong with escaping online sometimes, making e-friends on Twitter or Facebook or a blog. But in general, I want him to treat anywhere we live like a small city.
I never want him to treat every stranger like a friend, because that’s what he can make them. That’s my mission and I hope for his sake that I succeed.