Wave Back

I’m trying to be the guy who waves to everybody I pass on my run. It’s not hard when I get out at 4 pm for a good 10 miler, as the majority of the rail trail using crowd is still at work, so I don’t have humanity overload syndrome. HOS – is that a thing? It is now.

I didn’t always wave to people when I ran, despite feeling some degree of affinity through shared exercise, as I just didn’t think people wanted stranger acknowledgement. I tended to reserve my subtle shows of appreciation to other runners only, and sometimes only to those I knew were really putting in work for the sake of running and not to check off their Instagram fitspo hashtag requirement. Yeah, I was (“was”) a judgey judgerson.

Since scrapping my treadmill training (Oh, I didn’t address that yet…another post) I’ve been on the familiar stretch of rail trail I put so many miles on over the years, and I decided that while I’m out in the world alongside others, I should go ahead and express my appreciation for them being out in the world as well. So I started waving to people, or at least acknowledging them with eye contact, a subtle smile through pressed lips, and maybe a low hand out to wave, or just two fingers for a “what’s up”. It’s as simple as that, but I decided to do that to EVERY person I passed, even if when I turned around we saw each other a second time. Runners, walkers, cyclists, bike commuters, neighborhood folk, dog walkers, people sitting on benches, men pushing carts to the metal recycling plant, drunk dudes on benches, randos…everyone.

I want to be known, in part, as “That guy who always waves at me.”

It won’t necessarily matter in any deep, important sense, but a non-threatening gesture of acknowledgement and cooperation can only bring value to a relationship should some more serious situation arise. Who knows. Regardless, I like acknowledging people and I like being acknowledged.

Here’s the rub though. MOST people don’t acknowledge back. It’s a near extreme buddhist practice in detachment to wave to every person you pass, knowing most won’t return the kindness and you’ll be left fighting off a rising disappointment and callousness. The key is to not care, to just wave because you know it’s nice. But again, most people don’t respond. Cyclists are pretty notorious for not exchanging waves. Maybe it has something to do with their speed of travel. Or hell, maybe I never see their response when they zip by. Women often don’t respond unless they have made it a point to acknowledge others before you even reached them. I really don’t hold anything against anyone for not responding, especially women. I often didn’t wave to them previously because in a patriarchal society of constant objectification and sexual harrassment, I didn’t want to play into any notion of that at all. Ultimately, I just said “fuck it” and started waving, but not too pointedly or with extended eye contact or creepy smiling or anything. Just a quick, “I acknowledge you” and keep moving. I’ll do it even when I know they are looking away from me intentionally. It’s all good. I’m gonna err on the side of kindness.

Acknowledging others can be tricky though. You don’t want to always assert dominance with extended eye contact, which is absolutely A THING with males. We evolved from primates don’t forget. Our animal nature is a part of us and I’ve absolutely seen total strangers get into fist fights because one alpha male looked at another alpha male too long, neither of them wanting to break eye contact in an act of submission. Seriously, IT’S A THING. I make it a point to “see” others, but not too quickly, to show respect, but not weakness. It’s a funny primal relationship males have to walk…or run.

On the other hand, most people that don’t respond to stranger acknowledgement is because a stranger is a stranger. Kindness can be risky, and when we are genetically coded with survival behaviour, it’s safer to keep to oneself and not build any sort of relationship with someone you don’t know, of which you’ve never build trust or had reason to. How many times has the kindess of a stranger turned out to be a ruse for some other intent, whether it’s to bring you into their religion, give them money, or an outright physical assault. Humans haven’t lived on top of each other like this for essentially our entire existence, and so our tribal relationship directives still take precedence in most of our interactions, especially with strangers. Keep to yourself until you are around those you trust.

Maybe that’s a little too much analysis for a simple wave, but that doesn’t make it all untrue.

I still wave though, because I know I mean no harm and it’s not just acknowledgment that is important, but the repetition of acknowledgement that really makes strangers less strange. I’m back on my 10 mile a day base, cutting a groove into the rail trail I’ve run for a decade now, but I’m not the only routine oriented user on the path so already the faces have become recognizeable and initial acknowledgments are now bordering on expected pleasantries. The ultra skinny ultra runner I’ve seen for years. We wave to each other. The very pregnant woman who smiles to me before I even get a chance to return the favor. We wave to each other. The bike rider who always offers encouragement as if you’re in the middle of a marathon race. We wave to each other.

No matter the response, I aspire to be that guy who waves to everyone, who is not seen as a threat, or a self-absorbed athlete, or another arrogant white dude. I just want to be the guy who people say to each other, “yeah, I don’t know that guy, but he always waves to me.”

So, maybe, wave back. Or not. Me and buddha don’t care.

4 responses to “Wave Back

  1. I say hi to every single person I encounter while I’m out running or riding. Or at least give a nod if they’re too far away. I think everyone deserves to be acknowledged and well, I’m out there doing what makes me happy so it’s only natural I guess. I’ve had some great interactions by simply saying to hello to a total stranger on the street. As a female, I also think it’s the safer way to move around. Even if I’m being cat-called, acknowledging that person usually throws them off guard.

  2. Shannon Coughlin

    👋 At the pace you are going, you may miss many returns of the day. This post makes me happy!

  3. I’ve left Lake Carmel, NY, & am now privileged to be running the Ojai Valley trail in Ventura County, California (the Central Coast)
    EVERYONE says hello here! And, on weekends, 50% of trail users are tourists! I think it’s also a state culture thing.
    Keep running, Stay vegan, baby!

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