Every society has unwritten rules that they live by.
I bet that if you were to ask people, no one knows where these unwritten rules came from. But we all know what they are and we all do our best to follow them.
Here are just a few of the unwritten rules people follow.
Step outside when you answer a phone call.
Hold the door open for the person behind you.
Don’t cut in line at the grocery store.
Don’t microwave something smelly in the office.
Wash your hands after using the bathroom.
Don’t use other people’s stuff without asking.
Clean up after yourself.
If you’re using Facetime, put in your headphones.
These are just a few of the unwritten rules in our modern society.
There are so many more than just those that I listed. As a matter of fact, I’m certain you could think of a few more right off the top of your head.
A lot of our unwritten rules make perfect sense.
Of course, you would step outside to answer a phone call. That way your conversation can remain private and no one else’s conversation is interrupted by yours.
It’s the same reason you would use headphones when on Facetime.
It would also make sense that you hold the door open for the person behind you. No one wants a door slammed in their face.
Cutting the line in the grocery store and using people’s stuff without asking is just wrong—I’m pretty sure everyone knows that.
Likewise, all the other unwritten rules I listed have perfectly reasonable explanations as to why we should follow them.
No one wants to smell your food, get your germs, or clean up your mess.
Many of the reasons we follow these unwritten rules are because it’s the thoughtful and courteous thing to do. It’s a way to think of the needs of others before ourselves.
And the fact that most of us follow these unwritten rules shows that the world is full of good people who look out for others.
But there’s one unwritten rule that I just can’t understand.
What’s with the unwritten rule in elevators?
Right now, I’m in New York City, spending some quality time with my older daughters. And the hotel we are staying at has a very small elevator.
This experience has led me to question people’s behavior on elevators. Honestly, I think it’s one of the strangest things we do.
We get into a small space with people we don’t know and all of a sudden, we’re afraid to even speak.
We don’t make eye contact. We don’t say hello. Instead, we stare at the numbers, as if that’s going to make the elevator go faster. And we do our best to pretend not to notice all the other people around us.
It’s awkward, and it’s uncomfortable. Yet nearly everyone’s behavior in an elevator is the same.
I say “nearly” everyone because I’m one of those strange people who talks to people in elevators, gives a smile, or at least says hello.
I just want to ease the awkwardness by being friendly.
Some unwritten rules just need to be broken.
Yesterday, I got into the hotel elevator with five other people. We were pretty crammed in there, with everyone facing forward and eyes focused on the numbers.
I couldn’t help myself, I just had to say something—so I did.
In my most friendly tone I said, “I still find this to be one of the weirdest experiences that when people get on an elevator, they don’t talk. They don’t look at each other. And they just stare at the numbers.”
Of course, everyone laughed, and it broke the ice.
It’s not that we were going to have a long conversation. We were just going down ten floors.
But it was funny to acknowledge that everyone else was thinking about it, but not willing to do anything about it.
Connections can be made—even in elevators.
As we got talking for a minute or two about the awkwardness of elevator behavior, one of the men in the elevator brought up the recent Progressive Insurance commercial about Dr. Rick trying to train someone not to be like his parents.
In the commercial, the guy Dr. Rick was training stepped into the elevator, and as people joined, he started talking to everyone. He commented on someone’s shirt, asked people questions, and even faced the wrong direction.
You could tell that everyone else was very uncomfortable. But the trainee was pleasant and even happy just being who he was.
At the end of the commercial, Dr. Rick said, “That was terrible.” And he insisted that they do it again.
What I love about this commercial is that it actually acknowledges the strange behavior we have on elevators.
But the truth is, I honestly wish more people were like the guy in the commercial. He was being real. And he was definitely not ignoring the people around him.
Maybe we should question some unwritten rules.
Everyone knows the unwritten rule of elevator behavior and nearly everyone follows it.
My question is why? There is no logical explanation.
If our goal is to connect with people, why is it that we can talk to people anywhere else—except in an elevator?
I’ve rarely had someone initiate a conversation with me in an elevator. But sometimes I will initiate a conversation with others.
I always say hello because I think it’s the right thing to do. And I make sure to hold the button for anyone coming in.
I can’t say I’ve ever faced the opposite direction of everyone else, but it may be interesting to try sometime. I’m honestly not opposed to it.
It’s so strange to me that when we get onto an elevator, we see it as a situation where we kind of shut down and we just want to get off as quickly as possible.
We don’t have to follow the crowd.
It may seem even more awkward at first, but what if we changed the unwritten rules of the elevator and made our own rules instead?
What if we saw riding an elevator as an opportunity to connect, to give a compliment, to smile at someone, and to spread a little love and kindness?
Imagine how different our world would be if instead of ignoring the people around us, we chose to really see them instead.
What if we took the opportunity in that very small space to give others a little touch of kindness that they can take with them when they leave?
I always talk about the idea of changing our corner of the world.
What if your corner was an elevator and everyone you were riding with came out of that space a little bit brighter and ready to face whatever was there when the doors slid open?
It may just make your life a little bit brighter, too.
That’s really how we can change the world—one person and one elevator at a time.