Walsh's Wonderings — The invisible stink

Robert F. Walsh
Robert F. Walsh

They live among us, perfectly decent people in almost every respect. You’ve probably known them for years. They give to charity and pay their taxes. Some even return their library books before they’re due out of consideration to others who want to read them. They just won’t acknowledge your greeting when you pass them in the hall.

The refusal to acknowledge greetings should not be confused with those suffering from “resting brat face,” that dreaded malady that makes it appear that those who suffer from it just sucked on a lemon. No, RBF is an involuntary condition, while those who ignore a genial “Good morning!” are making a conscious decision to do so. I can only assume they’re missing a gene or were unable to watch key episodes of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood as children.

Responding to a greeting is a part of the social contract; it doesn’t matter whether one wants to respond. Most of us lie every time we’re asked how we’re doing, anyway (“Fine,” we’ll reply, even if we just had to bury the family goldfish).

Some of it might be due to where we live. I still remember the culture shock of moving to Ohio for college. It was disconcerting to walk the streets of downtown Cincinnati where everyone looked me in the eye and greeted me. When a stranger walks up to talk to me on the East Coast, I’m usually checking to make sure my wallet is still in my pocket. While no one’s expecting that level of voluntary interaction with our fellow human beings in Fairfield County, we also don’t expect to get the Heisman when we pass people we know.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of folks who put social blinders on as they go through their day. They keep their eyes down as they pass as if their avoidance renders them invisible. Some celebrities take this to the next level, wearing shades and headphones to block out any possibility of having to relate to the world around them.

How can we not be offended? More importantly, how can those who ignore attempted greetings not know we’ll take offense? It’s as if world outside them is afflicted with an invisible stink (probably not unlike that family goldfish just before burial).

It’s fair to ask why anyone should care whether people return greetings; isn’t this just one more thing we can make up to take umbrage? Well, yes. I accept that I’m needy and small. On the other hand, it bothers well-adjusted people around me, too. It’s just plain awkward to keep saying “Hi” while someone ignores it. Did he not hear me? Perhaps she was lost in thought? Maybe he thought I was talking to the fire extinguisher?

In the end, I resent that these people resent me for forcing my greeting upon them and then demanding reciprocity. Tell me to shut up and go away, but don’t ignore me. After all, I just lost my pet goldfish.

You can read more at RobertFWalsh.com, contact him at RobertFWalshMail@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @RobertFWalsh.