There was a terrific little piece on Zen Habits last week, Faith in Humanity: How to Bring People Closer, and Restore Kindness. I read it right after I’d come back from paying my local utilities bill — there never seems any point to paying that bill by mail since the office is just down on the other side of town. So, once a month, I drive down, hand my check through the drive up window, chat with the lady who always puts dog cookies in with my receipt, and drive off with a little smile and with two dogs happily munching away.
It’s a little thing, but it’s typical of the way we treat one another around here. People are friendly. We say “hello” when we pass on the street, and usually wave a little if we’re driving out on one of the country roads and someone with a Park County license plate comes toward us in the opposite lane. We stop and chat on the trail, or at the dog park. Nothing major – just pleasant conversation. You can tell the urban tourists in the summer because they don’t say “Hi” — and they look hostile or apalled that you’re saying “Nice day, isn’t it?”
It’s important, this layer of friendliness. Sure — it’s a different beast than real freindship — there are people in town that I don’t particularly like but with whom I’ll still exchange a casual hello, will ask about their holiday, what the kids are up to. It’s a small town. It keeps the social fabric together.
And it’s so easy to lose. A few fancy subdivisions, a couple of big box stores, the encroachment of wide streets with strip malls on each side where people are frightened or frustrated by the time they park and it starts to erode. Once that toxic miasma of being “in a hurry” creeps in (and I am completely guilty of this, especially while travelling. Nothing makes me crankier than someone meandering in an airport, someone who isn’t with the program, someone who doesn’t know we’re all supposed to be purposeful and in a hurry).
As someone who works at home, the social fabric provided by the general friendliness in town is crucial in my life. There may be days where the only actual human contact I have is with that lady at the Utilities office, or the checker at my grocery store, or with the guy at the coffee shop. One of the reasons I moved to a small town was so I could live someplace where I’m not a stranger — where I’m known. Where I can go out for coffee, or a drink, or dinner and run into people I know.
And so, I’m going to try to shop locally for Christmas. I know there are a couple of things I need to buy online, and I’ll probably still have to drive over to Bozeman, but I’m going to start close to home, and see what I can find — we are a town of artists and crafters after all. Plus, I’d rather go shopping here, where I know people, where shopping is a series of pleasant encounters with people I know, than go to a mall, or to Target, or even over to Main Street in Bozeman, which is great, but which isn’t my town.