An Unplanned Experiment

October 25, 2021

            Once, when I was confronted with a seemingly insurmountable challenge, a wise woman suggested that I treat the situation as an experiment. She suggested that I engage in a specific behavior for a particular amount of time and consciously observe the outcome.   I learned so much from her suggestion!

Since then, I have tried several ‘experiments,’ though the outcome was not always positive, I have always learned something from the experience and moved ahead. As the old adage goes, it took Thomas Edison 1,000 attempts to invent a successful lightbulb. I may not have Edison’s tenacity, but if something is important enough, it’s surely worth a shot if it might bring light!

As many of you know from previous postings, I took up bike riding last May and have learned so much along the way; some of what I learned were deliberate experiments concerning my own willingness to ‘persevere’ no matter what and then work to evaluate the outcome; other ‘on the road’ teachings were serendipitous – unplanned experiments with unexpectedly happy results.

Recently, I experienced such serendipity, and a lightbulb came on, if you will…

+ + +

When I began cycling, I encountered other cyclists, power walkers, dog walkers, runners, and motorists at intersections each and every day.

Everyone was on the move: looking directly at the ground in front of us if we were on the path, or looking at lights and traffic as we approached intersections; intentionally trying to get wherever we needed to go as quickly as we could get there.  

No smiling.  No words spoken. No acknowledgement of other humans on the way.  Nothing, even though we encountered the same group of people every single day!  (Exercisers tend not to waiver from routine!)

It was nuts!  But I am also nuts! (For those who have known me a long time, I am sure I hear an AMEN here!)  

So, I decided that I would start smiling and saying ‘Good morning’ to each person I encountered either coming or going.’ It seemed a lot nicer to do this than just gruffly calling out ‘left’ in passing, or, worse, just ringing my bicycle bell.  

I also decided to thank motorists who let me continue on the path ahead (even though I obviously had the right of way to begin with) rather than ignoring them and assuming I was entitled to go first (truth in advertising: the entitled stance got me knocked off my bike twice and almost hit once….so my ‘nicer’ approach was also a consequence of survival tactics: establish eye contact, express gratitude, and live!  Just saying….!)

I didn’t expect anyone to respond in kind.  That wasn’t the point; lack of response wouldn’t hijack my obnoxious cheerfulness (one of my better spiritual gifts….no, it’s not listed in scripture but it should be!) 

So, every day, without fail:  ‘Good morning!’  ‘Have a great day’ (if I saw folks twice on the same day), and often ‘Thank you so much!’ for letting me cross without hitting me!

I never thought of my actions as an experiment, just something I wanted to do as I rode along my now 31-mile trek.

Guess what?  

Over the days, weeks, and months, things on the path are changing.  

People who see me coming, smile broadly – not just wry grins, but toothy smiles – the best!  

Some have started responding with greetings of their own.  

More than a few have made it into a game by trying to greet me first!

Not only that, but even the motorists that I see each time I ride smile and wave as they make sure they are not blocking the bike path. (there may be something unnerving about the possibility of hitting an old woman riding a bike, but I prefer to think they are just nice and considerate folks)

So much fun, right?  But it’s actually more than idle fun. 

It is an unplanned experiment in developing community.  

 The folks on the way have been all shapes and sizes. 

Multi-generational.  

Multi-national. 

Multi-cultural. 

Multi-racial. 

Ecumenical. 

All with their own latent fears of each other expressed through hesitancy to connect.

All with assumed biases against each other. 

All with their own sense of personal worth or, indeed, unworthiness. 

Still, over these past months, we have become a community. 

Not because of me, but because of everyone’s willingness to come out of our own personal bubbles and connect. 

Bubbles burst as we acknowledge each other as humans along the way even if we do no more than smile and wave, or actually offer words of greeting. Did you know Good morning is a  tacit blessing: God’s morning (be yours!)?

Everyone has been willing to let go of whatever they carried with them along the path and embrace a new behavior. 

I even had a fellow biker pass me, cross an intersection ahead of me, then hit the button on the crosswalk sign so that it would change for me once I finally got there – now that’s community!

So, I wonder…..can we do similar unplanned experiments on a grander scale?  

Christians have seen this experiment modeled in scripture in Christ’s interactions with others whom He saw and interacted with along the way; not only in the noticing and calling of His disciples, but also in accounts of Christ’s acts of healing throughout the gospels.  

We have seen it modeled in the New Testament Book of Acts: Philip and the eunuch, Peter and John’s encounter with the beggar at the Beautiful Gate, just to cite two examples.  

We have seen it modeled in the lives of compassionate leaders whose behaviors have be recounted over the centuries. (ie. Francis of Assisi, Mother Teresa, not to mention the heroic exploits of everyday strangers who heroically or compassionately care for those they have ‘noticed;’ even those guys who catch outfield ‘over the fence’ fly balls and then give them away to children sitting nearby).  

None of these unplanned experiments miss our notice because they seem so rare. 

None of the consequences of the experiments go without notice either.  

Healing begins.  

Behaviors change.  

Joyful playfulness emerges

Mutual worth is acknowledged.  

AND

We ‘experimenters’ also change. 

In my own experiment, I no longer anticipate rejection, but look forward to being greeted with a word, a smile,  and even engaging in the game of ‘who can say good morning first.’ What a great way to begin a day! 

So….again…..what if we all were to conduct our own experiments:  on the highway, in the checkout line, in the neighborhood, wherever we encounter another human in the course of our day – even if just by letting someone else go ahead of us in line, or have the last roll of toilet paper on the otherwise bare grocery shelf?  

I wonder what changes we might notice in the coming days, months, years ahead? 

Changes not only in others but in ourselves as well.  

Break the bubbles! 

Be obnoxiously cheerful! 

Watch to see what happens!

And oh, by the way, have a wonderful day!

And to God be the glory!  AMEN.

Published by Pastor Catharine

Retired ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. I have a Master's of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry (with an emphasis on Spiritual Transformation of Community) from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.

One thought on “An Unplanned Experiment

  1. Now that’s what I was talking about in my Laity Sermon! Bravo Pastor Catharine!! In reading your blog I didn’t realize so many people aren’t already tuned into this!! I got this trait from my Dad. He always smiled at everyone and voiced an appropriate greeting. I am truly my father’s daughter so I too have never met a stranger no matter their station in life in any way. Thank you so much for your messages before & after my sermon!
    Love you my sister in Christ!

    Judy Craun

    Like

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