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#22719 Sydney Zoehrer Chapel Talk

One of my fondest memories as a camper is sharing responses to the Nice versus Kind vesper with my cabinmates. The conversation centers around the contrast between niceness and kindness. The general consensus within the cabin usually echoes the sentiment that “being nice is surface level, whereas being kind involves putting the other fellow first and truly caring about helping someone in need.” Kindness can be random, in which a person reaches out to another whom they may or may not know, but who needs support in some way. Kindness can also be intentional, and stem from a deeper connection or friendship with another individual. 

Being nice, on the other hand, is saying hello, it’s being polite, it’s asking someone how they’re doing. A lot of people question the importance of simple greetings and the function of politeness – there was even a debate in my senior year english class – what do greetings and niceties actually accomplish? What I’ve found is that in order for kindness to be intentional rather than random, we must first start with being nice. And being nice starts with saying hello. 

This past academic year was my first year of college at Yale in New Haven, Connecticut. Right away, I met countless new people. I introduced myself to the kid sitting next to me in every class, I sat down with random people for most meals in the dining hall, and struck up conversation with people looking at similar extracurriculars at the club fair. Quite a few of these conversations lasted for fifteen, twenty minutes standing in a courtyard, some lasted even an hour after dinner time, when the dining hall staff would have to kick us out because they were closing the building for the night. 

My college has an urban campus, and people walk, skateboard, or ride a bike to class. The thing that struck me the most was how many of my classmates put their airpods in, set their gaze on the horizon, and appeared to look straight through everyone in their path. People with whom I’d had really interesting conversations one day would look at me like they had never seen me before, the very next day. I was astounded by the number of people who I said hello to who looked straight at me and just kept walking as though I had never said anything at all. 

This was really surprising to me, as I grew up in a small town on the West Coast where everyone says hello to others in passing on the street – regardless of whether or not they know each other personally. I was raised being friendly to neighbors, acquaintances from school and the gardener next door. It’s something that’s really shaped my nature – no matter where someone comes from, what they believe, or who they associate with, I will always say hello.

For me, it’s hard not to wonder what friendships could have come out of those connections if people had committed to just being nice in the first place. There are a handful of instances this year in which I saw someone I had met walking down the street, we both made eye-contact, and neither of us said hello. I can’t help but feel like it was a missed opportunity for a bond with another student at my school, and I wish that I had just said hello in that moment. 

Be the person who acknowledges someone you’ve only met once, even when you’re with a group of your friends. Be the person who waves at someone across the street, even if you know there’s a chance they might not see you, and you’ll turn your wave into an awkward “I promise I was putting my hair behind my ear.” By greeting someone, you’re not only validating their existence as a fellow person, camper or student. You’re also demonstrating your willingness to connect on a deeper level and a consideration for interpersonal relationships. Some of the strongest friendships that I have held onto throughout the school year started with a random moment where I just said hello, where I reached out and took a chance. 

Your friendliness won’t always be reciprocated – you can’t make everyone happy and not everyone will like you. Despite this fact, I still say hello to the painter working on the house next door and the random neighbor sitting on their porch when I’m out for an evening walk after a day of being inside. I’m a strong believer that an unexpected wave, or hello, or smile can make all the difference in someone’s day and get them to think about why they aren’t acknowledging others with the same friendliness – and why they should. 

This summer, when you’re away from camp, think about the friendly faces you’d be seeing right about now walking to and from the pines, up and down the hillside to senior beach, or in and out of the dining hall doors. Whether you were planning to come back to camp this summer, or you haven’t been in twenty years, think of how most of your camp friendships probably started with a simple greeting of some kind. Take the opportunity to bring friendliness to wherever you are in the world this summer. Your dedication to being nice will foster an environment conducive to more intentional kindness in the world. 

People miss some beautiful opportunities for connection by not being friendly. When you pass someone you’ve only met once this summer, six feet apart with masks on, make a promise to yourself that you’ll greet them instead of averting eye contact. Start with hello and you never know where you might end up. Thank you. 

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