I took a journalism training course for farmer writers at Cornell University recently. For me, there is always some mystique about visiting the “Big Red” campus and walking down a similar path as my grandfather did back in the 1930s. It would have been fun to see the parking arrangement back then versus the $10-per-day parking lot and special ticketed areas of today.
Upon squeezing my crew-cab pickup into an eco-friendly car spot, I exited with my laptop, notebook and a sense of springtime zest in my step. The day promised to fill my head with techniques on honing my writing craft and filling up more scrapbooks for my grandchildren to read in some distant time.
I was happy to be away from cows, mud, grazing charts and lecterns for a change.
I stepped onto the sidewalk at 9 a.m. and headed down toward the agricultural quad. I felt myself smiling and looking forward to engaging folks with a hearty, “Good morning.” As I looked ahead, it appeared the grass-farmer would be plenty busy spreading the joy of a new day to students and professors scurrying to classes.
Ah, here’s my first salutation opportunity. I smiled and looked at the young man who abruptly looked down at the ground, passing without a peep. OK. I’ll chalk that one up to his possible hangover. The next young man had some gargantuan headphones and passed looking straight ahead without a murmur.
Jeez, a guy could start to get a complex already! The next several potential “greetees” all had their noses and eyes buried in their iPhones, much too busy for even a grunt.
Finally, I saw an older gentleman (professor type) with a briefcase coming my way. Surely this would be an easy one, since we’re both part of the graying generation. I smiled and looked right at him and said, “Mornin’. “ But alas, he just looked down and away, and kept on walking, as if to say, “You’re not worth the time of day.”
Believe it or not, I passed more than 20 people on the sidewalk on my way to the Mann Library courtyard, with nary a sound except for the echoes of discontent in the human condition. Are people just that preoccupied or unhappy?
I successfully checked my disappointment at the door but confided in one of my editor friends what happened while discussing how I should proceed with this newfound experiment. Maybe it was me and my mannerisms that made folks scoff. Did I come on too strong? Was I just too darn happy? Does the sign of optimism scare off people? Are college students under too much pressure to get somewhere all the time? Is this campus full of night owls and not morning people? Was I in a caffeine-free zone?
As I sat in class and learned about podcasting, photography tips and conducting farmer interviews, my agricultural mind morphed back to the days of riding shotgun in my Grandpa Steele’s 1965 Chevy Impala when he waved to every driver we met. I asked him once why he waves all the time. “It’s just a friendly, country thing to do when you meet someone,” he said. “I’m a proactive greeter.”
Remembering how much people loved my grandpa, I made up my mind that the return trip to the truck was going to be different. Farmers love a challenge. Feeling this newfound vigor to change the attitudes of these young leaders, I burst out of the library looking for salutation-oppressed students.
As I walked down the sidewalk immersed in the beauty of the tree blossoms, a hidden pothole claimed my ankle and I went down hard with my computer careening off into the grass. Oh great, I break my ankle sniffing the flowers and practicing to become a Walmart greeter!
Ahead of me, maybe 30 yards, were a few students who looked back to see me in a heap. Upon seeing me clutch my leg while regaining a stitch of composure, they turned around and kept on walking. This was a true eye-opener for me.
I managed to get to my feet, collected my laptop and strewn-about papers, and limped on toward my truck undeterred in my quest for initiating an acknowledgement. I passed several young men and interjected a hello, but all I got was a lame stare or their music was so loud they didn’t hear me.
With only two souls left on the salutation sidewalk before this emotional project would end, my spirit was lifted as two young ladies greeted me back with smiles and I ended my journey on the positive.
I sat in my truck with a sprained ankle and bruised ego, surmising we need to change attitudes on human interaction at colleges, at work, at home and in our communities for the better. And then I remembered this quote by Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
I’ll also try to become a better salutation solider.
Good morning, good day and good evening.