Human beings are social animals. We live in communities. Children will make friends every day, striking immediate direct, unfiltered relationships. The directness and honesty of these instant relationships would sometimes make us laugh. And the fact is, you find it funny because you have been trained not to behave socially with most people. We, grown ups, leave home every morning with our barriers up. We avoid interaction with strangers. We don’t want to be disturbed. We don’t want to be touched. How many times lately have you said “hi” to the stranger sitting next to you on the bus?

But it should not always be like that. And in some places the opposite is in fact quite the norm.

Let me tell you a story

Earlier this year, while returning home after New Years Eve in Cape Town, a few friends and I stop at the Chapman’s Peak tollgate. A middle-aged, tired looking lady is manning the tollbooth. It’s around 3am.

While we’re sorting out the money for the toll fee, one of my African friends strikes up a conversation with the woman, saying: “Happy new year to you! I am so sorry you have to spend it here.” The woman leans out from her window, and replies with a smile: “Oh, don’t be sorry, I don’t mind it at all. I have everything I could want.” As she notes our surprise, she continues: “I asked for work and here I am, with a job, so I have exactly what I wanted. I could not be happier”. While counting out our change, she adds with a smile: “I have decided I am starting 2017 with a positive attitude. Nobody can take that away from me”. My friend stares at her for a few seconds, and then says: “Well said! I will go into 2017 with the same attitude as yours. Thank you!”

This way of real human interaction is something I have observed in Africa for a while. Refreshing and comforting, isn’t it? It is all about awareness. About getting out of your comfort zone. Out of you learned attitude. About bringing down the walls, and experimenting with this concept of Positive Exchange.

Next time, try to go beyond the strict call of duty, forget about “trading formalities” for once. Ask the name of that waiter serving your table, and thank him or her as you leave. Ask the lady manning the till at the supermarket if she, too, is having a nice day.

Make it your duty to end the day having made contact with a random stranger that day. For no reason and expecting nothing in return. Something amazing will happen. People will become human again.