■ Awareness that simple gestures can have big influences
■ Awareness that happiness can be communicated, effectively
■ Knowing that one person can make important changes
Do your parents drive you to school in the morning? Is there a crossing guard holding a red stop sign where the children have to cross the street? Where I live all the kids call the crossing guard the lollypop man. It seems a strange thing to call a crossing guard, doesn't it? I think the name comes from when they used to hold a round stop sign on a long pole that looked like a big lollypop. The lolly-pop man at my son's school, through one simple thing he did, changed the behavior of a whole suburb. The first time I remember noticing him was when he waved to me as I drove my son to school. I think he must have been a new crossing guard for that school.
He presented me with a puzzle. He posed me a mystery—all because he waved to me like someone does on seeing a really close friend. A big, broad smile accompanied his wave. For the next couple of days I tried to discreetly study his face to see if I knew him. I didn't. Perhaps he had mistaken me for someone else. Perhaps he thought he recognized my car as that of a friend. By the time I contented myself with the conclusion that he and I were strangers, we were smiling and waving warmly to each other every morning like old friends.
Then one day the mystery was solved. As I approached the school he was standing in his orange safety vest in the middle of the road holding out his stop sign. I was in line behind about four other cars. Once the kids had reached the safety of the sidewalk on the opposite side, he lowered his sign and motioned the cars through. To the first he waved and smiled in just the same way he had done to me over the last few days. The kids in the first car were familiar with the warm morning greeting. They already had the window down and were happily leaning out to wave their reply. The second car got the same greeting from the crossing guard, and the driver, a stiff-looking businessman in a dark suit, gave a brief, almost embarrassed wave back. Each following vehicle of kids on their way to school responded more heartily.
Every morning I continued to watch the lollypop man with interest. So far I have not seen anyone fail to wave back—even if a bit stiffly like the businessman or strangers to our suburb. How did they feel, I wondered. What difference does the warm friendliness of a stranger make to your morning? I find it interesting that one person can make such a difference to so many people's lives by doing one simple thing like waving and smiling warmly. I know I certainly began to look forward to the pleasure of a greeting from this friend I had never met. His cheerfulness warmed the start of my day. With a friendly wave and smiling face he had changed the behavior, and I suspect the feelings, of a whole suburb of morning commuters.
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