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Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Ride to the Beaches

Today I saw a remarkable sight while on my way to the library in the Beach in Toronto.
As I entered the streetcar downtown, the driver called out 'Hi' cheerily , to each embarking passenger. Now that is not at all unusual as there are many very pleasant men and women in that hideous shade of maroon. But this guy kept up a running conversation with the passengers up front who cared to participate. The surprising thing was that many of them did choose to chime in. Conversations ranged from TTC fares, the inadequacy of the transfer ticket system in the city, to what it was like to live in New York City. I could have closed my eyes and felt I was back on a maxi-taxi in the Caribbean although the accents were miles apart. The similarity came not from the accent, but from the vitality of the conversations. Strangers were talking to each other and sharing jokes in a most un-Canadian manner. And it was all at the instigation of that cheery driver.
I know because when he got off at Connaught, where the shift changes occur, there was a noticeable decline in the camaraderie in the car. With Cheery Driver, EVERY one who got off, wished him goodbye. After the new shift got on, the first two passengers to leave up front said 'bye' to those around them and after that the normal quietness set in.
And this is a first- when Cheery got off he turned to face us and announced loudly to the car, ''Bye folks, have a great a afternoon!" Now that was a first for me. It is no surprise that several passengers, including me called back 'Bye'.
You know, I think the man was American (well the gist of his conversation suggested that).

This reminds me very vividly of a similar story that Dan Goleman related in his book  Social Intelligence. You can find a link to some sample pages on Amazon here

We are 'wired to connect' and emotions are contagious. As Goleman relates:

Take for example the cashier at a local supermarket whose upbeat chatter infects each
of his customers in turn.He's always getting people to laugh-even the most doleful  people
leave smiling. People like that cashier act as the emotional equivalents of zietgebers, those
emotional forces in nature that entrain our biological rhythms to their own pace.
 (Wish I could have found the story of the American taxi driver for you but only found this one instead).
But I'll return to this another time.

Have you ever observed how making direct eye contact and giving a smile and 'hi' to a perfect stranger in the street, elicits an (albeit) surprised 'hi' in response?
Try it out today and let me know if it works...

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