Running is more than cardio for me. It's also my time to meditate, brainstorm writing projects, or plan — whether it’s the day ahead, my next vacation, or my grocery list. When I’m running, I tend to focus only on the thoughts in my head. I hardly ever notice the other runners, walkers, or cyclists. That all changed the other day when a woman said “hello” to me, and it wasn’t until we’d already passed each other that I realized she’d even spoken. By the time I said “hello” back, she was too far past me to hear it. Was I really so distracted I couldn’t hear a friendly greeting or offer one of my own? I felt terrible. So much so, that I set off on my next run determined to greet each person with a smile and say, “Good morning.”
It wasn’t the first time I’d ever spoken to someone on the trail, but it was the first time I’d ever spoken to everyone on the trail. Most people responded in kind, and seemed pleased, if not delighted, to be acknowledged. Some people smiled and said “hi” to me first, once we’d made eye contact. If waves and hellos were currency, it would have been one profitable morning for me.
Of the few people who didn’t return my greeting, most appeared to be in their own world (I guess I’m not the only one who does this), while one man clearly saw me but ignored me anyway. Who knows? Maybe he was just having a bad day. I didn’t let any of this bother me. I realized it wasn’t about whether people reacted to me; it was about whether they reacted after me. I’d felt guilty when the woman said “hello” to me and I didn’t respond, but it had also felt good knowing she’d spoken to me in the first place. It had made me want to pay it forward. Perhaps some of these people would do the same.
I always finish my runs hopped up on endorphins, but this time there was something else: good vibes. I promised myself that from now on, I would always acknowledge the people sharing the trail with me. It’s a valuable lesson for life in general, really. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our heads we don't notice the people around us. Going through our days this way, it’s easy to forget we’re not alone. While some people may be strangers to us, we don’t have to treat each other as such. The ability to exchange a kind word or gesture with another person is what makes us human. And perhaps best of all, friendliness is free to give and receive.