Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Building Community One Conversation At A Time

What a great communal, supportive day I had today! It just goes to show ya that even in the wide open spaces of SoCal suburbs, a person can say hello, give a little verbal hug and make somebody’s day.

After schlepping all the way to the OC for a business meeting, leaving at 6:30 a.m., and then schlepping back, in my least favorite mode of transport – the LA freeway system, it was all I could do to straighten my desk and check my emails. After putting in a few hours in my sleep-deprived state, I decided to pack it in and run some errands.

I went to the dry cleaners to drop off our visiting oldest daughter’s raincoat which had been dragged through the snows and rains of Boston and Germany for 3 years. It looked like what I imagine a raincoat would look like if it actually saw duty as stormy weather wear. Remember, we are having a Big D drought in my neck of the woods. The shop owner gave me a big welcoming smile, asked where I’d been and typed my name into the computer without me reminding her.

Then I went to the tiny Middle Eastern market next to the dry cleaners. I hadn’t been in there since they opened last year. The owner explained to me, in halting English, how to cook the farina I bought. Then another sales person offered me some of the tea they were about to brew but I had to leave for the bank before it closed. When I asked about whether he sold homemade hummus, the shop owner said next time, just give him a few minutes and he would make some special for me. You can bet when I come back for the raincoat, I’ll drop in for some hummus and pita.

At the bank, formerly known as WaMu, (they should have known that the goofy name was going to lead them down the road to disintegration), all the tellers and bankers have been trained to smile and greet everyone, several times over. They’ve really ramped up the friendliness. But I love it. If you can’t give me more than .01% interest, at least look me in the eye and say hello like you remember me.

One of the teller supervisors asked me how my day had been. I told her I’d done a new business pitch with a group via a Webinar for the first time and she said, “That must have been nerve wracking.” Wow, she was right, it was. How empathetic. It actually made me feel good. And I waved to everyone on my way out and they waved back.

Then, after guiltily hitting the office for awhile, I went off to kickboxing at my local, small karate studio that I’ve been going to for almost 3 years except for the last 3 months when I just ran out of steam. What do you mean that's an excuse?! So I went back to it last week and I know my body will start thanking me eventually. But the happy part is when I walked in last Thursday, people came up to me, virtually slapping me on the back, calling me by name, welcoming me back. The place where everyone not only knows your name, they know your body mass index but they don’t care. They encourage you to kick harder anyway. I love it!

So what does all this Day in the Life of a Formerly More In Shape Publicist mean? It’s not like I don’t talk with my friends or colleagues all day long. It’s the quality of today’s interactions that tells me that focused conversations among folks as they go about their day can build community. That if I can get to know the tellers at my bank in the middle of a Great Recession, for goodness sakes, well, there’s hope that we can build something more, one pleasant conversation at a time.

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