When I run, I make a point of greeting people I see. This is for many reasons.
First, it is kind of a runner thing. Just as we sweat, wear shorts and (are supposed to) like Chariots of Fire, we just have to wave at people we see. I think it might be an ego thing: “Look at me! I’m running!” Or maybe it is due to some sort of mental change inflicted by the running: ‘Look at me! I’m crazy as hell!”
Second, although I am an introvert, I seem to be a friendly person by nature. So, I greet people because it is a friendly thing to do. Or maybe it is just the effects of running so much (see above) and I just think I’m friendly when I am actually deranged in a social way.
Third, I believe that greeting people is a moral and social obligation. It shows that I acknowledge them as fellow people and members of the community. To simply ignore someone is a mark of disrespect and hence a moral and social failing.
Further, sincerely greeting people creates, if only briefly, a small connection and this adds (however minutely) to a sense of community. Also, people often find social interaction a positive thing and hence a greeting can make a person feel just a bit better. Thus, from a utilitarian standpoint, it seems to be a good thing,
Of course, there is a limit to this. When I walk on campus and pass hundreds of people on the way to and from class, I don’t greet everyone-this would be exhausting and people would regard me as crazy. Interestingly, the greeting obligation seems to be reduced when in crowd situations. As noted, this is mainly for practical reasons. Also, if someone seems like they might decide to take a swing at me if I say “hello”, I’ll practice discretion. Of course, sometimes I just say “hello” anyway and trust in my speed and experience in fighting to carry me through any incident that might arise. So far, it has worked.
Fourth, there is the practical motivation. I might get hit by a car or something while running, and if I just said “hello” to someone, s/he might be more inclined to call 911.
Not surprisingly, some people react to greetings and some people just ignore them completely. The reactions do vary. Some people will start a short conversation. Some people will not show any sign that a human being has just spoken to them-not a flicker of recognition or even the slightest reaction.
A few years ago, I started keeping a rough track of how people reacted to my greetings. Naturally, this cannot be considered a proper experiment or study about the friendliness of people. There is a loctaion bias (places where I run), a time bias (I usually run in the morning), and a bias because of my qualities that might affect peoples’ behavior (I’m male, running, look white, and I’m tall). However, the results have been somewhat interesting.
Not surprisingly, the most responsive people are fellow runners. Since we have the obvious common ground of being runners, they would tend to be more inclined to respond. Of course, not all runners respond.
People walking dogs tend to be more responsive than people without dogs, especially if I am running with Isis (Isis also boosts responses-most people cannot resist a husky).
Age is also a factor. People who are 40 and up tend to respond more. Younger people tend to respond a bit less. Part of this might be a matter of social experience. Part of it might be that I’m 40 and up.
Gender is, not surprisingly, a factor as well. Men tend to respond more, women less. This might be because some women think that responding might put them in danger or might cause me to stop and hit on them. I’ve heard people who are “safety experts” tell women not to respond to or make eye contact with strangers because it encourages attacks. This might explain some of the difference.
Appearance is also a factor; at least for women. I’ve found, shockingly enough, that “hot women” tend to be the least responsive to greetings. This might be because (as noted above) they are worried that responding will encourage bad male behavior. Or perhaps it is the fact that the hotter a person is, the less s/he has to worry about being polite and friendly. I’m sure some of my friends would have some witty comment to add here, but I’ll leave that to them. That is, after all, what the comment section is for.
Ethnicity and culture also seems to play a role. Interestingly, I’ve found that black males are the most likely to respond to a greeting in a positive way. This certainly goes against the not uncommon stereotype that black males are hostile to whites. One factor worth considering is that I have taught at a historically black college for years. Hence, my subconscious behavior might be different from most white people. For example, perhaps I do not look nervous or react as if I am suspicious when I see a black person. In case you are wondering, I do not try to “act black” (whatever that might really mean-it is not as if there is a single way black people act). I suspect that people subconsciously and automatically read various clues and these influence their responses. There might be some very interesting research material here for someone in psychology or another social science. For some reason, Asians are the least likely to respond. Most people would probably attribute this to a a cultural factor.