While out walking our dogs this morning, I exchanged ‘good morning’ greetings with 12 people and four or five dogs in the space of 30 minutes. Having woken to the cheer of the dawn chorus, then had my spirits dampened by the radio news, this contact with people lifted my spirits high again and it’s not even 9 o’clock as I write.
I’m not the most social of animals and find small talk does not always flow easily, so walking our dogs is a good way to connect with people. The dog-walking community tends to be particularly friendly and you get to talk to people of all ages, from many different backgrounds. I feel very lucky.
Some people don’t meet many other people. Some don’t speak to another person all day. Perhaps they can’t go out or don’t feel they can go out. There are other people who do go out but keep themselves to themselves.
Some of these people are content not to have much human contact, but there are others who would like contact with other people but do not feel confident enough to make the first move. I know from growing up near London that travelling on the Tube can be a lonely experience even when crushed among dozens of other commuters in a train carriage.
There is growing interest in the complexity of the relationships between loneliness and social isolation, as discussed in this NHS article on recent research, which is well worth reading.
Certainly, walking dogs opens the way to conversation and I often feel my mood lifted by accidental chats. I know it would be impossible to say ‘good morning’ to everyone we pass walking along a busy road such as London’s Oxford Street, but perhaps the occasional greeting would be good . . . for all of us.
• Robert Zarywacz is courtesy consultant for the National Campaign for Courtesy. As well as focusing on courtesy in daily life, he believes in the importance of courtesy in business and the workplace and manages pleaseandthanks.co.uk