Having travelled in many places on earth by bus and ship, I have always wondered: Why do people wave as we pass them? No matter where you are, the moment people see you, they raise their hands in the air in greeting and wave at you with smiles on their faces, seemingly happy to see you. If First World or Third World, the desire to connect with total strangers in a non-committal way is universal. For a brief moment, we look at each other, recognize our shared humanness and bridge the chasms that may exist between us with a simple, friendly gesture.
During my recent transit through the Kiel Canal (Nord-Ost See Kanal in German) from the North Sea to the Baltic, many people waved at us. I can tell you from experience it is difficult to be in a sour mood when so many humans greet you. Perhaps the fact that it was a Sunday afternoon in July, helped. The weather was beautiful and many folks were out to take their dogs for a walk, their daughters for a talk, their cars for a drive, their boyfriends for a coffee, their bikes for a ride and their sneakers for a workout. But no matter what they were doing on this warm afternoon, they all stopped, looked at our ship and waved.
The Kiel Canal is close to 100 km long. It takes about 12 hours for the transit and I enjoyed every minute of beautiful scenery, friendly smiles and gorgeous houses along the way. And if you paid enough attention, the passing sights and sounds could have told you much about the German way of life, how people live, work and love, how they take care of their country and how they spend their leisure time.
In North America, we argue much about the right to openly carry guns so we can protect ourselves. Violence has always been a part of the human condition but we blow individual incidences of violence out of proportion, report on them as if they were a widespread reality in our daily lives and cause fear among the population as a result. In contrast (and without being naïve about the hate and brutality that DOES exit), I’d like to suggest that the vast majority of people in this world are friendly, kind, helpful and loving.
I think a wave as a greeting between total strangers is very reassuring, even more so because it is so universal. For a moment, when we experience such an act of kindness, the world seems ok. A wave is free and it does not discriminate against race, gender, religion, ethnic background or political affiliation. It is an affirmation that there still is and always will be kindness among human beings…and for those of us, who believe that hugging total strangers would perhaps go too far in making a connection, a wave is a wonderful compromise.
Bark less and wave more!