GENDUSA COLUMN: It all begins with friendliness

Published 3:59 pm Tuesday, August 1, 2023

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Growing up in a small town in the South, most folks waved to each passing car.  Walking down the sidewalk meant saying “Hello” every few steps to someone you knew or didn’t know.  You would run into a grump every now and then, but I always assumed they must need an ear cleaning.  I never thought as a kid that folks chose to be rude.  How dumb would that be? 

Most of the South was considered the “friendly” area of America.  With our southern drawls, welcoming hearts, and fried chicken, folks began to visit, and many stayed.  I am proud of my southern roots, my Tennessee mountain accent mixed with a slight Georgian drawl.  Yet, some folks think I am saying Le-Anne instead of Lynn when I introduce myself.  What’s wrong with them?  They must need their ears cleaned too!

How often have you waved or greeted a stranger lately, and they looked downright surprised or ignored you?  They sure weren’t raised by my father.  My dad was always the first to extend a hand or speak.  He was known to never meet a stranger and was the most personable person I ever knew.  

If I didn’t exude the same cordiality and affection,  there would be a little pinch or a nudge because Dad knew that friendliness was the key to bringing kindness into the world.  A wave is interpreted that you acknowledge the presence of another person.  Even a “hello” signifies that you are happy to see that person you face, even though you may never see them again.

Simple acts of human respectfulness can squelch many ills and open countless hearts. 

During the last several years, we have witnessed a bombardment of complete rudeness, lack of consideration, and intolerant folks behaving like they don’t know better.  I know one thing, being mean, unfriendly, cantankerous, and callous will not win us any awards in the long run.

We know God has no appetite for inhumanity and incivility in all aspects of our lives.   

 Our political and societal polarization seems to overpower the Lord’s teachings of goodwill toward one another, even in the friendly South.  Our personal ideology will never save us, but our Godly behavior can. 

We watch crowds gather to cheer for those who are rude, disrespectful, insensitive, and querulous.  What good comes from shared animosity? Most of us were not raised to be unkind; we just forget God is always in the room where our behavior is displayed. 

Why not return to the ways we were taught;  waving, saying hello, and extending a helping hand with a welcoming smile.  Be the first to meet a stranger, look them in the eye and soften their heart.  Who knows what can be accomplished by our choice to be friendly and make a difference, one small gesture at a time?  That’s how we spread God’s good graces, unite, and maybe lower the temperature of hatred burning in the world. 

“Well, Lynn or Le-Anne, one person can’t do much.  Nothing will help this divisive world right now!”  I often hear such sentiment, and my response is, “Everything that began started with one person.” 

 To turn the tide of ill-will, blame, and vitriol, why not consider respect instead of resentment and regard instead of boos.  And if so, we might see changes in Washington, our neighborhoods, and our souls.  I know folks often fear the stranger, but the benefits far outweigh the dangers.  Remember, our best friends in life were once strangers.  We could miss a golden opportunity when we ignore or don’t empathize with others.

Years ago, when my son was a toddler, he sat in my grocery cart as we waited to check out.  I noticed the young, thin girl in front of me was searching her purse for change to purchase a box of diapers and a pacifier.  My son was on my last tired nerve as he begged and wailed loudly for every candy bar near the register.  

The barefooted young mother turned toward me, “I have a new baby boy, and I know he will beg for candy too one day.”  I noticed the fear in her eyes as I replied, “Yes, but love will get you through these terrible twos!”  She laughed as she started to pay with a collection of coins.  

 I also had little money in my wallet, and I am no saint, but instinctively I told the cashier, “ Just add her groceries to mine.  My treat!” 

The new mother turned to me with tears in her eyes and thanked me before walking away.  Today, I still see the face of a stranger who became a friend for just a few moments, yet enough time to make a difference. 

Producing friendliness diminishes frenzy.