I’ve spent the last week in and out of restaurants, hotels and airports. I’ve rented cars and gone to the theater and I added in a little shopping. I also met some friends but I’m really not here to give you my travel itinerary. What most of these situations have in common is the need to interact with people in different service industries. And the experience was as varied as the people themselves.

Some of them were lovely, smiling, friendly and accommodating. I particularly enjoy it when they tell me to have a “blessed day”. A blessing with my groceries or car rental!

Unfortunately, there were others who were, shall we say, less deserving of praise. They greeted me with a frown – actually they didn’t greet me at all but they did keep frowning – and made me feel like my requests, no matter how politely phrased, were a real intrusion on their day.

The first time it happened my husband tried to joke about it. “Her name must be Sparkle.” But then there was another encounter with another Sparkle and then yet another...

And I really got to wondering why they do this. Forget about me; wouldn’t their day be nicer if they greeted their customers cheerfully? Wouldn’t they enjoy their job more if they made relationships, however brief, with those they served? Wouldn’t they go home at the end of the day in a better mood if they gave all their clients a blessing instead of the cold shoulder? It seems so self-defeating.

And yet we all engage in that kind of behavior. We allow our bad moods to determine our behavior which frequently leads to sinking even deeper into negativity, as opposed to rising up out of it.

It takes slightly more effort to smile than to frown, to ask someone how they’re doing instead of ignoring them, to explicitly express good wishes rather than implicitly express bad ones. But the payoff is so much greater.

I understand the desire to just give in to the grumpiness; I think we all understand it. It seems easier and freer. But it’s so much lonelier. It erects walls rather than pulling them down.

I expect that in the big city we were visiting, even hello to a stranger may lead to a sense of vulnerability. But I’m not suggesting we invite them home; just treat them the way we’d like to be treated, just to follow the dictum of Hillel and not do to others that which is hateful to us.

It’s the little things that create community and relationships and it’s also the little things that destroy them.

All the current research suggests that loneliness and alienation contribute to a more rapid physical and psychological decline. It’s even in our self-interest to behave better.

But it’s in our spiritual self-interest as well because when we treat the Almighty’s children, the ones we know and the ones we don’t, the ones we serve and the ones who serve us, the ones we meet in brief chance encounters and the regulars in our live, with love and compassion He will return it to us tenfold. And we will become better in the process. That seems like powerful motivation to me.

I wish I could say that I was going to avoid that city or those situations in the future but that would invalidate all the lovely people and experiences. What I can do is work on taking the initiative and reaching out with greater friendliness to everyone I meet. Hopefully it will be returned in kind.