This morning as we cycled up a hill, we encountered a woman and her dog walking down the hill. As we passed, we called out a greeting. Her response was: ‘Lovely to see you back again.’
I remarked to my neighbour that the greeting was lovely to hear. The woman with her dog had obviously seen us before and remembered us. She had also, clearly, noticed that we had been absent for a few weeks.
It got me thinking and reflecting upon the nature of transport.
Would the same interaction have occurred if the woman was driving her car, and we were also in a car, travelling in the opposite direction?
No, it would not have.
Culturally, we have become addicted, and dependent upon, travelling faster, easier, and more comfortably. We tell ourselves that this is necessary. We have to get to work. We have to get the kids to school. We have to do the weekly grocery shopping. We have to go to the movies, or a restaurant, or to some other entertainment venue.
And, doing all that, what do we do?
We enclose ourselves in a metal and plastic vehicle weighing anywhere from one tonne to more than two tonnes. It is totally enclosed. The world is shut out, and we are shut in.
We travel at speed. We travel with ease; all we need do is steer and press our foot on the accelerator. We travel in comfort; the seats are cushioned, the music (or audiobook) comes to us from well positioned speakers.
We interact with no-one - unless there are others in the vehicle. We do not hear the birds singing, we do not hear the leaves in the trees rustling. We often don’t even see the landscape through which we are passing.
I notice it time and time again though, that when walking or cycling, the opportunity for small interactions - a friendly wave, a smile, a greeting - arise continuously. Researchers have labelled these interactions and relationships as weak ties.
Such small and brief relationships are not what we commonly think of when we think of community or friendship, or even acquaintanceships. They do not loom large in our thinking when it comes to how we conceive of our sense of belonging.
Yet, these weak ties can be just as important as the strong ties in our lives, and in our sense of community and belonging. Some pioneering research in 20131 suggested that “…seemingly trivial social experiences can shape belonging and well-being in the real world.”
Last week’s blog suggested we let go.
This week’s blog suggests we slow down, stop looking for the easy solution, and get out of our comfortable vehicles.
This week’s blog suggests we start walking or cycling. We might find the small, weak, interactions that we have along the way bring us a greater sense of belonging and well-being.
As a bonus, we would be doing the environment a great benefit.
1. Gillian M Sandstrom and Elizabeth W Dunn, Is Efficiency Overrated? Minimal Social Interactions Lead to Belonging and Positive Affect, in Social Psychology and Personality Science, September 2013.