PUBLISHER’S COLUMN: A HEARTFELT ‘GOOD MORNING
The man in the hunter-green hooded sweatshirt with orange lettering gripped his cardboard coffee cup and walked toward me down the hallway of our shared hotel in Deadwood. It was early.
“Good morning,” he said as we closed in on each other.
“Good morning,” I responded.
Later, in the elevator, I rode with a couple who couldn’t have been much older than me, the names of whom I will never know. After we reached the ground floor and the elevator dinged and the door opened, he said to me, “have a good day.”
“You guys, too,” I responded.
“Thanks!” she said enthusiastically.
In those moments and in the days that followed, I thought a lot about those simple, seemingly insignificant exchanges with total strangers. They were nothing more than passing salutations — words that were nice, spoken in earnest. I have no idea who the man in the sweatshirt was, where he aligns politically, how he feels about religion or what his social standing was. It didn’t matter then and it doesn’t matter now. We were just two guys passing each other in the hallway, essentially saying hello.
The same holds true with the couple in the elevator. When he told me to have a good day, I believe he really meant it, and when I said it back, I meant it, too.
What does it say about where we are as a society when a simple exchange of pleasantries strikes a chord?
I’m reminded of a long-form Heineken commercial in which total strangers, two at a time, are brought into a room for an experiment they know nothing about. We learn that these are people who have deep philosophical differences about sexuality, politics and feminism, but don’t know that upon entering the room, and are instructed to work together on a project.
They do. And after learning about the other person’s beliefs — who they actually are and what they stand for — they are invited to leave.
They don’t. Instead, they agree to sit down and talk — over a Heineken, of course.
It’s incredibly profound, moving and eye-opening. Does what we have in common outweigh our differences? I just think it might.
I have written many times about my deep want for better days — for people to stop being so mean to each other. For people to stop hurling insults. For people to stop yelling both in person and on social media. For basic human decency to be restored so a kind word, spoken by a total stranger, doesn’t come across as a foreign concept.
But maybe that’s it. Maybe our humanity and social capital can actually be improved by simple and heartfelt exchanges, like “good morning” and “have a good day,” spoken to total strangers in a hotel full of them.
I like to think it can.
It is, if nothing else, a start.
Jeremy Waltner is husband to Stacey and Dad to Ella & Oliver, who encourages you to Google “Heineken commercial.” It really is beautiful to watch.