Many years ago I remember going into the Woolworth store to “look at stuff”. I know this dates me, but you’ll soon see that’s the point. Anyway … every time I would walk in to the store, someone would greet me and ask if they could assist me. Here I am, about 13 years old and adults are offering to help me. It always made me feel good, but I would always refuse. I wanted time to look, to touch, and to imagine what I might do with a new-found treasure I might uncover.

Later, in the early 1980s I noticed a trend developing. It was a movement toward being more casual. I applauded this concept because I thought this new behavioral freedom would break down the barriers between people and create better communication. I expected people to become more friendly, congenial and emotionally intimate. Over the next decade or two I realized how wrong I was.

This “movement” emboldened people to use vulgar language in the checkout line, while small children were within earshot. This was not intimate conversation, it was laziness and lack of consideration for others. I was crushed.

About this same time, I also noticed that no one greeted me anymore when I walked into a store.

Sure, I probably would have refused the help, allowing me to get lost in the over-abundance of stuff I could look at, but I missed the attention. Store clerks would seem to disappear anytime I was near. Sometimes I would walk an entire store to find one person that might help me, only to discover it was a vendor stocking shelves, and not employed by the store I was in.

These changes left me feeling a bit irrelevant, as if the world had transformed but I had not transformed with it. It was a feeling similar to losing a loved one, as if someone or something important had been taken away from me. I began to recognize this as the reactionary pendulum swing of human nature. When humans find something in the culture that doesn’t work anymore, they react and start to do the opposite, swinging to the other side. Eventually the pendulum comes to rest in the middle, a normalizing of previous behaviors.

Assured this was not a “collapse of civilization” but instead a progression toward human growth, I recognized a need to participate in the reinvention of congeniality and service. We can make a difference by making these ideals contagious to others. And it starts with simple modifications in our behavior. Each day take the time to smile more often at those you meet, and notice their reaction. Make it a game to see how many people you can get to return your smile. Say please (because you ask for their favor) and thank you (because you appreciate what they have done) more and more frequently. Recognize that each person you deal with, has something of value to add to your life, whether it is a service or a friendship. Remember that we build our future, one action at a time, and what we do today, shapes the world our children will live in tomorrow.