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Be the First to Say “Hello”

In Defense of Small Talk.

“By the way, my name is Kamga,” I said.

“Oh, hey, my name is Anselm,” he said, turning to look at me.

My body moved with hand-stretched. Car keys dropping into his pocket, he moved the ruler to his left hand, and stretched his right.

Fist bump.

He returned to his car, pulling his keys to open his door. Then turned around.

“That’s really nice what you did, man. I’ve been living here for a while, and you’re the first neighbor whose name I know. Thank you.”

I’m the guy at the party who comes in thinking everyone is looking at him, wondering if he brushed his teeth. The guy who stays in the corner if none of his friends are there. Who watches people — making stories in his head. Who will happily have a conversation with you if you give him 48 hours to decide whether you’re trustworthy of his “deep” thoughts.

This is the part where I say “No, I’m not an introvert” for shock effect.

But you know that’s not true.

Oops.

It’s true. But it’s not the whole truth. I used to be that guy.

My neighbor Anselm reminded me of why I had forced myself to stop giving in to that guy.

Why I had to stop waiting for the others — the “extroverts” to extend a hand or say their name. They didn't have a monopoly of speech. They, too, needed time alone to recharge.

For years, I hung on to this misconstrued idea of a label I carried without considering how much I was losing. When I got the chance to shadow one of the most interesting people on earth when I worked as an event host, my paradigm shifted.

I imagine all the conversations I never had because of this. The people I could have learned from — hundreds of thousands.

Before I spoke with Anselm, we’d said hello to each other at least 10 times. Plus, he was always the first to say it. I’d get out of my car and run to my apartment downstairs.

“Hello!”
“Hi. *whisper*.”
“Did you say something?”
“No! Have a good day!”

Door slam.

But today was different. Today I gave my name, a fist bump, and a moment to simply know another person’s name. I practiced a little of what I learned from my mentor, Alex.

And I got the affirmation that we’re all really looking for the same things:

Community and love.

Doesn't matter what political party or religion or business, or hobby you are a part of.

We want to Belong.

Those who say they don’t belong to any group — belong to the group of people who don't belong to any group.

The next time you meet someone, whether it’s your neighbor or on a bus or even your driver, say hello.

Have small talk! It’s important. It’s necessary.

You don't meet someone for the first time and tell about your childhood dreams and therapy fails. Let’s leave that to Hollywood.

In the real world, knowing someone takes time. Trust is earned.

While you’re waiting for the next person to say hello, they’re waiting too. The wait that never ends.

What if we just stopped waiting? Said our names and hello?

Yeah, sure, you will meet people who really don’t want to know your name. People who are either having a terrible day or just don’t like people ( or you specifically). That’s okay.

There are more than 7 billion people.

How many Anselms do you think there are? How many will express gratitude for the start of a friendship?

How many neighbors are secretly wishing to know each other?

Thank you, Anselms of the world…

For reaching out to the rest of us, afraid to share our truths and begin a connection.

For asking about the weather, giving us the breath to talk about how we really love snow even though it seems most people hate it.

For asking which party we belong to and shaking your head disapprovingly when you hear we don’t belong to any.

And for taking the time to let us know there are still people who care about their neighbors.

Written by

Cameroonian writer and video creator. Featured in LEVEL and P.S. I Love You. I write about building relationships and personal transformation.

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