I took a women’s self defense class with friend of mine. I learned many valuable things that I have put into practice since then. I also learned that my education and skills as a social psychologist have been paying off as they apply to my interactions with strangers, including those who might have an intent to harm me. I am usually keenly aware of other people and what they are doing. I monitor my surroundings and when someone approaches me, I instinctively look him/her in the eye. I do not avert my gaze. Instead, after making eye contact (or taking note that the other person is looking someplace other than in my eyes), I look at the person up and down. This is a quick way for me to notice what the person is wearing, how tall he/she is, and other important details. The instructor in the self defense class remarked that it is highly unlikely I would ever be victimized by a mugger because I do not conduct myself like a “victim” with downcast eyes and slumped shoulders. Interestingly, however, my instructor noticed during our role playing exercise that I tend to smile at everyone I encounter and that looking directly at someone while smiling often averts disaster. I have been told I attract “weirdos” because I appear approachable, but I believe smiling at people is a lot better way to interact with strangers than frowning or appearing frightened. Usually, when I smile at someone who looks pretty scary, he/she smiles back at me and then moves on.
I sometimes have to cogitate on these posts before writing, especially when responding as 2nd blogger. This topic is one of those so I read Melissa’s writing and then I have been thinking about it. Part of that thinking about it has been to pay attention to people on the street. Do they smile? Do they make eye contact? Do they speak? Mostly the answer is “no.” But some do and often, if one speaks first, the other person will make eye contact and smile. These simple actions create a connection between people and in our culture, generally generate a smile in return. There are those, of course, who are paranoid and wonder, “Why are you smiling at me?” But, most people, even the “scary ones” return the expression. We live in a world full of tensions, of us vs. them. Trying a little people to people contact, even if it’s just a smile, can ease that tension. Help me continue my experiment. Smile at people you meet!