This past weekend, I visited my friend Bryan and his family in South Carolina. Bryan and I served in Iraq together, and he is at the top of a short list of comrades who helped me get through my tour of duty there with my sanity intact.
In Bryan’s neighborhood, a suburb of Columbia, everyone who passes by connects with one another. Some of the reason may be that they’re neighbors, but where I live being neighbors means you live next to each other coincidentally, and you may never speak unless you happen to be sharing an elevator and one of you is next to the buttons. In Bryan’s neighborhood, if you are within 20 feet you are someone to talk to. It’s not just a perfunctory reflex greeting either, it’s a real message. The people there are kind to each other, but it’s not a politeness contest. It is genuine respect and friendliness, very warm and communal. Weird.
I say “weird” because it was so foreign to me after living in metropolitan Washington DC this past year. People here are officially polite, but there is no depth to it. It’s more like their Facebook status is “polite” than that their nature is polite. People here are on a professional or personal mission of some sort – for promotion, status or pedigree. (I’m on a personal mission too.) It is a beautiful city, and I have some good friends here for sure, but most of the people I meet here are completely inwardly focused, looking toward others just to see how they compare.
Maybe it’s better that I live in DC for the time being. In spite of all there is to see and do here, there is no social net pulling me to the myriad opportunities to do something besides work on my business. If the inhabitants of DC were like the people in Lake Carolina, I might not have any time to blog or run a business because I’d have too much fun. So I guess it’s for the best that my neighbors would not recognize me in the hallway. I am pretty busy these days.
But I am hoping that once I have time for a social life again, I will find myself in a place with the art, culture, cuisine and adventure of DC, coupled with the warmth and friendliness of Lake Carolina. Sure, I’m achievement-oriented and I am driven to succeed. But I’d rather be appreciated than envied. I’d rather be trusted than validated. And I try to surround myself with others who are the same in that way.