I was a bit startled by his reaction.
We were surrounded by street peddlers on the streets of Cusco. Overpriced tours and kitschy trinkets. A normal occurrence for any touristy site.
But he blew up.
His face turned red and he screamed at the solicitors to go away.
I held this memory with me as I continued traveling to new places.
It served as the antithesis to the calm, cool demeanor I wanted to exude.
But I struggled too.
When I came across solicitors in Mexico, Barcelona and Rome, I would say the usual:
No thank you.
Not right now, maybe later.
I don’t have cash on me, sorry.
Sometimes, they can be persistent and aggressive.
Where are you from?
Just one minute, let me show you this offer…
(And my favorite) Do you want to help save the environment?
Every time I engaged with them to say “no” again…it just made me feel more shitty.
I felt like I had to respond.
Or so I thought.
Until I realized, this is just like meditation.
Street peddlers are like thoughts and distractions, which are easy to get attached to.
Like solicitors asking you to give, to donate, to help…we feel obligated to respond.
But we don’t have to.
So I tried a new thing.
First, I take note of my urge to respond verbally.
And instead, I just smile.
Sometimes, I smile and nod.
This is my way of communicating…
I acknowledge you. And I will allow you to pass.
Just like my thoughts.
Instead of judging or reacting, I give the gift of a smile.
I can’t change the street peddlers1 – of my mind and my travels – from approaching.
But I can change how I respond.
And that changes everything.
- This technique has worked wonderfully well. It feels awkward to just smile at first, but more often the peddlers just move on quickly without persistence. Maybe they just think I don’t understand them. ↩
Also published on Medium.