Human Touch

On being personable in a detached world...

We are people starving for attention in a world of automated tellers, touchscreen ordering and voice response systems. Personal attention is a two way street. That person behind the counter who robotically rings up your purchase needs attention as much as you do. We are human and our spirit is what separates us from the animal kingdom.

It is astounding how many people are operating out of fear and anxiety. Those two emotions are reflected in our interactions with each other in urban areas and small cities. A lot of people act as if they don't care in this mixed up, muddied era of economic downturn, political divisiveness and social disruption. Actually they're just playing it safe. People have been trained to publicly be cool, calm and detached and mimic a phony customer service model that is based on whatever acronym some consultant came up with. Attempting to avoid offending anyone has made many defensive and cold towards others.

In my industry I work with people who suffer test anxiety since their credentialing and livelihood depends on a high stakes test. Experience has taught me that acknowledging it in some way from the beginning returns a heartfelt "thank you" afterwards. One way I do this is just prior to entering the test room I will tell someone to "take a deep breath, breathe in the good air, exhale the bad air and think success." There is nothing original in that statement but it gets a positive response in test takers ranging from burly firefighters to aggressive stock brokers to aloof doctors.

At the interchange of human interaction people seem to be dispassionate but underneath they are not. Inside may be a raging bull or a soft-hearted bear that fears what others might think or only wants to be recognized as a person. Take a moment to recognize someone's fear or anxiety by doing or saying something that acknowledges those emotions indirectly by being personable. My bet is that you will discover the most detached person will light up and respond.


  1. I've read this several times over the last day or so, trying to think of a comment that might add something to it. I don't know that I can do that; I think this is pretty much a perfect summation of the situation.

    I generally move among crowds which, in public anyway, act pretty coldly toward each other. I assumed it was a New York thing and to a degree-through my various travels through a seemingly much-more-congenial Midwest over the last several years-I think it is. Or maybe I wish it was, because I hate to think that people put on faces of disinterest in other places as easily as they (and yes, I) do it here.

    For a long time I've thought about "social media", and though I've been a very low-level player in it for several years I've never been able to defend the accusations that it separates people rather than brings them together. It's never felt like it did that (to me, anyway); I've met some extremely cool people online. Some of these people I've spent ten minutes talking to and will never talk to again, and some of these people I expect I'll think of regularly for the rest of my life. I've eventually met a few people in person. The results have been mixed but never dull. Can't get much more real life than that.

    I really don't know what created the coldness. Maybe it's always been around, but when you hear stories about victory gardens and soldiers giving candy to kids in WWII and any small-town story my dad's parents ever told (or any small-city story my mom's parents told) you never got the feeling that anybody was trying to insulate themselves from life. They sound like they were doing their best to make it, not avoid it.

    I think your words are absolutely right, that decency and kindness and positive words are the cure for all of this. I think an awful lot of people right now need to know that a stranger can be kind. I think EVERYBODY needs that to be reinforced. Because, really, does it ever suck when someone out of nowhere is nice to you?

    I come at this as an affirmed non-people person, which makes my words either hypocritical or something I need to work very hard to live by. I think I tend to the latter but I also think that I'd better make an effort to change things. It scares me a little bit, frankly, but it doesn't take much to make someone unexpectedly happy to have crossed your path. And really, the times I've spontaneously done nice things I've always felt good about it too.

    We're a nation of people who don't talk to each other, yet we spend billions on pet food. This tells me that there's plenty of love to go around if we'll just, well, send it around. I plan on doing much more of that...and I assure you that the cats will not be short-changed. :)

    It's a great, inspiring post, JR. Thank you for posting it.

  2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAE-xqFr0iQ