We live in very interesting times. People are communicating with one another at a greater frequency than at any other time in human history – but the means of communication is more often than not electronic, rather than face-to-face.
I am quite confident in asserting that humanity was never meant for this type of sterile Social Interaction. But nonetheless, it will no doubt continue to expand at probably an exponential rate. We are to the point where we prefer to text one another rather than have a telephone conversation, let alone one that is face-to-face. And we often don’t even use words to communicate anymore, but rather we have devolved into the use of technological hieroglyphics known as emoji and emoticons.
It was Pliny the Elder who first observed that the, “….eyes are the windows to the soul.” Yet, how soulless our interactions are in the context of today’s technology! How frequently we communicate with others without ever seeing their faces! And some of us don’t even speak to real humans, but rather artificial intelligence such as that which is built into our smartphones, like SIRI.
A true flâneur, in my view of the world, shuns this relatively recent predisposition towards impersonal communication and is always inclined to face-to-face conversation – preferably over a cocktail. This is the social creature man was meant to be. To be able to see the sparkle in the eye, or hear the inflection in the voice, or observe the body language while speaking – these are among the characteristics, the cumulative effect of which make up what we know as civilized Social Interaction. It’s not just words on some electronic device, or far worse – emoji.
So the flâneur endeavors to wander about the social places, watching those engaged in their daily activities – even if it’s only idleness, and always on the lookout for someone who piques his or her interest or curiosity. It could be something a person is doing, how they look, or perhaps just the expression on their face.
But the glorious freedom in the life of the flâneur is that you’ve made time in your own life to approach anyone you want and at least attempt to get to know theirs. By smiling, introducing yourself, and engaging them in some conversation that is meaningful both to them and to you. Not all who you approach will have an interest in returning your conversation. But you will be surprised at how many not only do, but who are also appreciative of the interest you have shown in them. And at the end of the conversation, you may have not only learned something of value from a fellow human being that can enrich your life, but you may have also made a new friend in the process.
Not too unlike the poetic lyrics from the wonderful Johnny Mercer song,
Free and easy, that's my style
Howdy-do me, watch me smile
Fare-thee-well me after a while
'Cause I gotta roam
And any place I hang my hat is home.
Sweetenin' water, cherry wine
Thank you kindly, suits me fine
Kansas City, Caroline
That's my honeycomb
'Cause any place I hang my hat is home.
Birds roostin' in a tree
Pick up and go, and the goin' proves
That's how it oughta be
I pick up too when the spirit moves me
(I go where it behooves me**)
Cross the river, 'round the bend
"Hello stranger!", "So long friend!"
There's a voice in the lonesome wind
That keeps whisp'ring, "Roam!"
I'm going where a welcome mat is
No matter where that is
'Cause any place I hang my hat is home.
 © 1946 Warner/Chappell Music Any Place I Hang My Hat is Home Music by Harold Arlen; Lyrics by Johnny Mercer
If there was ever a song that captured the true spirit of the uniquely American flâneur, for me this would no doubt be among the top three.
So, here’s a quick story for you that will serve as an instructive example for the point I’m trying to make in this post:
After a very difficult day in the office about four years ago, I wandered into my favorite bar at West 36th Street in New York City for a late lunch. It was about 2 o’clock – maybe even a little bit later. The place was mostly empty, save for a few people doing the same thing I was – namely taking a late lunch at the bar with a cocktail to wash it down and to take the edge off of a lousy day.
There was a lovely lady sitting a couple of barstools away, and after I had gotten myself into position with a Manhattan placed in front of me, she looked over, smiled, and asked me how I was doing. I think I sullenly replied, “Fine. How you doin?” – or some other such socially-retarded retort. Nonetheless, we started chatting over our libations and pub food – for the next several hours.
Needless to say, when the time came for us to part company that day, my outlook had changed completely – all on the strength of a conversation with someone who previously had been a complete stranger. We planned to get together for a follow-up lunch and, as sometimes happens after a chance, random encounter – we never did. And worse, we lost touch.
So think about this: If you can find such a friend only 1% of the time out of all of the new people that you meet, how much more enriched would the quality of your life be? And if that’s the case, why wouldn’t you be seeking to meet new people all of the time? So, go out and do it. And do it intelligently. You owe yourself nothing less. (Note: For help with this, check out the Resources page to learn how to hold an engaging conversation, if in fact you are a recovering smart phone addict.)
But for you to motivate yourself to consistently meet new people, you really must have an interest in them; like them; and perhaps even grow to love them. You can’t be a misanthrope like I was for most of my life. If you are, I do not believe you would make a very good flâneur. You might as well just become a hermit.
We will talk about how to appropriately love others in the next blog posting – tricky business indeed given today’s crass, narcissistic, and carnal American culture.
But if you do it right, it’s the highest purpose you can give your life. And that's coming up next.
© 2016 David Nogar All Rights Reserved
David Nogar is a railroad transportation consultant presently working in New York City.