I grew up in what was a friendly town and friendly community. People talked to each other, even if they were strangers. They would smile and say hello, or actually the local phrase was “How you doing?”, not in a Joey Tribbiani way, more like “Howyadoing” as though it were one word. Shopkeepers were jolly and jokey and knew all of their regular customers. The customers were loyal and patient. People held open doors and got thanked for doing so.
Fast forward 20 years and things have changed enormously. People are sullen and glum looking, hardly anyone smiles. They barely make eye contact let alone speak. We sat having coffee today in a Cafe Nero, almost all the independently owned cafes and shops are gone now and my town has become like most others – a giant brand. Chain stores and chain coffee houses are everywhere. The friendly, knows his customers shopkeeper is now a creature of history. The shops are now filled with bored looking, fed up staff, who couldn’t care less what your “usual” is. In many ways, I don’t blame them for their attitude. The customers don’t speak to them, other than to make demands upon them, without so much as a please or thank you. That’s not how I was brought up, I was brought up to have some good grace and general manners with people, so it saddens me when I see customers just thrust their money at the shop assistant and then snatch back their change, without an acknowledgement to the human being who just served them.
So while we were drinking the burnt tasting coffee, I was people watching through the window, when I noticed across the mall an elderly gentleman in a wheelchair attempting to get into a shop. One side of the double doors had swung shut and he was struggling in his wheelchair trying to pull it open. It was a hugely busy Saturday, there were people walking past inches from his chair, there were people actually walking around him to go into and out of the shop and not one of them offered to help him – not one. My husband got up and walked across the mall and opened the door for him, but it did take him quite a few minutes to get out of the cafe, weave his way through the shoppers and go to the gentleman’s assistance. In that time I counted 8 people who walked into that shop past that man and not one of them thought to pull open the other side of the door. That made me feel really sad, is this what we have become. Everywhere I looked people were talking on mobile phones or texting, people were rushing around with their heads down, people were letting doors close in each others faces. Is this the world my girls will grow up in. I am determined to teach them differently.
So I decided to perform a little experiment. I made a point of looking directly at people, trying to catch their eye and if I did I smiled or said hello. Most people appeared to be genuinely shocked, a few stared at me like fish with their mouths opening and closing. A few actually responded with a wary hello and a couple actually smiled back. I held doors open for people, or let them go in front me. Some said thank you, some smiled or nodded, but quite a few just barged on anyway as if it were their right and they were going to shove in front of me in the first place. What on earth has happened to the human race? We weren’t always this rude, uncaring and cold.
We left town soon after and on the way back to the car we had to cut down an alleyway. I say alleyway, it’s not really, it’s a wide paved area with some flower beds and a couple of benches, there are no shops on it and only the car park at the end. On the corner though there is a snooker hall and amusement arcade. Outside it was a large group of teenagers, mostly boys with their low slung jeans, beanie hats and skateboards. A bit like male Avril lavignes. Some of them had electric guitars and drumsticks, so I suspect they might also have a little band. About 30 paces in front of us was a man carrying some shopping bags. I was carrying the baby and my husband was carrying our toddler and pushing the empty pram, they had both had enough of being in it at this stage. The man went to step down the kerb and whatever happened he fell and dropped all his shopping bags.
Again there were people everywhere walking to and from the car park. They all looked around at what had happened, but none of them did a thing to help. Old ladies were passing us tut tutting at these “wild” teenagers hanging around, some of them glaring accusingly at the boys as though they were to blame. By this stage however at least 6 of those young lads had picked that man up, lifted all his shopping and were asking him if he was alright.
Yes all the condescending adults, all the people who screwed their faces up at this group of teenagers walked past a man who had fallen and the people to help him were the unruly, wild teenagers. By the time we reached the spot, one of the boys turned to me and told me to be careful as there was a loose kerb stone and he wouldn’t like to see me fall over with the baby.
I got into the car with a smile on my face, my sadness at the human race disintegrated because of that group of teenage boys. The young boys branded as trouble by a big proportion of society, shone today as caring, respectful young men. I turned to my husband and said “If I was their mothers, I’d be very proud of them.” So to whoever their mothers may be, I say “You have raised lovely sons.”
Maybe it’s time as adults we take a leaf out of their books and start to care just a little bit more about those around us, maybe we should look beyond fashion and age and just see the human being, the person trying to live, just the way we are trying to live. Maybe we should hold open a few more doors, make a little bit more eye contact, smile at a stranger and say please and thank you again to the person behind the cash register.