One of the the first things I do in the morning is take our dogs for a walk. Usually I’ll meet two or three people, sometimes five or six, either dog owners or people on their way to work. We usually say ‘good morning’ to each other or more if we have time or know each other better.
I feel I am lucky because I live in a small town and tend to know a greater proportion of the population. The local community numbers something like 12,000 whereas the London borough where I was born had some 200,000 residents at the time. Small feels friendlier, but are people just the same anywhere?
Travelling on the London Underground recently, as I stood by the doors waiting for them to open, I saw a woman on the platform drop her glove as she approached the train. As the doors opened, I said she had dropped her glove and she said “thank you”. She was flustered as she didn’t want to miss the train so I picked up the glove and handed it to her and she boarded the train. “You’re a real gentleman,” she said. It was good to help someone.
I don’t know if I am more inclined to notice such things and help as a result of living in a small community, but I believe that acts like this are beneficial anywhere. Perhaps we can feel vulnerable in a city with millions of people around us, but we are all still individuals. Taking the time for small acts of kindness can make a world of difference to people.
Someone who lives on their own could find that you are the only person they talk to on that day when you hold a door open for them or offer them your seat. It connects them with the rest of the humanity when perhaps they have been isolated by their situation.
Perhaps I look a little idiotic when I smile and say hello to strangers, a thing we do a lot in the country when out walking with our dogs, but I think it is just as beneficial in a city. And if it makes people feel better and improves their wellbeing, even better.
• 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