I spent the last week in Florida and it was incredible! It was rejuvenating and the perfect way to relax before the craziness of wedding season fully sets in. Do you remember how I told you awhile back that I want to be a lifelong learner? (If not, that’s ok! Click here.) Despite that my brain was in full vacation mode, I still had the opportunity to practice what I preach. I learned something that has changed the way I think, and it was all really something simple that set this domino effect in motion — a paradigm shift of sorts, at least for me.
Let me back up a little bit. I spent the last week traveling with my good friend Nimo. We’re both originally from Africa, immigrants here to America. We share the same skin color (though mine is darker than hers) and the same religion. We met in college and I love this lady! Nimo and I had such a fun time visiting Disney World, beach hopping and inevitably eating our way through Florida.
Nice or Friendly?
If you know anything about me, it’s that if you’re a stranger, it’s not for long. I make friends everywhere I go. I love people, talking to them, listening to their stories and interacting. After all, the best way to learn is through someone else, right? So on vacation, I’m doing my thing, talking to strangers, engaging people with questions about life when my friend tells me I’m “too friendly.” Don’t get me wrong. I love Nimo for saying this because it changed my perspective. I enjoy being nice, but being nice and being friendly are different, she explained. Being nice is allowing someone to sit in an empty seat beside you. Being friendly is not only letting them sit there, but smiling and having a conversation with the person for no reason.
Meriam Webster defines “nice” as pleasing or agreeable and “friendly” as befitting a friend, such as showing kindly interest or goodwill. Basically “When you see someone without a smile, give them yours.” (Dolly Parton) That makes total sense, but I had never thought of it like that. Being nice does not make you friendly, and vice versa. You can be a great person and not want to be friends with every person you see. But here’s the thing, I want to. Whether it’s my personality, something I was born with or something I’ve developed over time, I want to be nice AND friendly.
We’re Different But the Same
While Nimo and I had fun in The Sunshine State, we also had our share of gawking and snide comments. It comes with the territory when you’re different. I’m not saying that it’s right, it’s just how it is. While Nimo and I are both Muslim, she wears the traditional hijab (headscarf). We’re walking along the beach when someone pulls his car over just to ask if she’s with“Isis.” This random guy asked my friend if she was a terrorist because she was in full dress. And as the week progressed, I noticed that we were getting a lot of stares. While I have my own struggles with being a black woman, I don’t usually feel the ignorance toward Muslims because I don’t “wear” my religion.
How can we be
happy friendly when interacting with people who see us and see stereotypes of “black” and “Muslim”? I kept circling back to this idea of nice versus friendly and I think that by being friendly, you will always come out on top. By saying hello, offering a sincere compliment or having a conversation with a stranger, you may plant a seed that wasn’t there before. And as it goes with seeds, they will grow and spread, and maybe, eventually, we can help bridge the stereotypes.
Changing Minds, Hearts
Perhaps people will slowly begin to think that black people aren’t scary. Maybe when people look at my friend wearing a hijab, they won’t think “terrorist.” And maybe we will be able to look at each other and look past our skin color, clothing and religion to see another person doing the best she can. Maybe people will tell their children that we’re not that different after all. We are all human and we all deserve to be treated with respect, kindness and humility. We all deserve friendliness.
By being friendly, we can connect with people on a more human level.
This past week in Florida has been inspiring. I feel so lucky to have people like Nimo, and be surrounded by people from all walks of life who challenge me to think on a different level. My friends teach me how to be a good person, show me how to be loving and help me stay educated and woke. They shape my world in such a positive way that I can only be grateful. I guess all that’s left to do is talk to the next stranger!