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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

Give us a grin

"The little things that count" department:

Scientists say giving a stranger a small smile or even just making eye contact as you pass can have a huge impact on their feelings. To find out how tiny gestures affected people, researchers at Purdue University conducted tests on hundreds of students and found even the smallest amount of eye contact made them feel connected to others.

“Ostracism is painful. It’s not a pleasant experience,” the Daily Mail quoted lead researcher Eric Wesselmann, a social psychologist at Purdue University in Indiana, as saying.

The team hope it could now help explain why people often feel lonely in large cities where people rarely make eye contact.

I think they're on to something here.

I was wearing a baseball cap in the office the other day (I take my Casual Fridays very seriously) and tipped it to a female co-worker from another department as we passed each other. She said something like, "That's the first time anybody has tipped his hat to me in years. Thank you." She's not someone I have thought of as the old-fasioned type who expects doors opened for her and the man to always walk on the curb side, so I was a little surprised at her reaction.

But I thought about it some, and it occurred to me that maybe we're all missing those once expected courtesies of life. Small gestures of etiquette offered and accepted are signs of mutual respect. Our abandonment of them may have had more serious consequences than we realize, a bigger effect on the coarsening of our culture than we want to admit.

So, give it a try just for yucks -- a little smile and some quick eye contact. You don't even have to say, "Hey, how's it going?" No need to get giddy about it.