Monday, June 18, 2012

Invasion of the Good Vibrations

There were tanks in the square all last week.

This scene was not the show of force that it might have been in another place and time. Rather, it was the U.S. Marine Corps with a show of community involvement. In keeping with that objective, the Marines in the square were no ordinary Marines. You would not see them smoking cigarettes and speaking in interjections. They were, if I may be excused for putting it this way, the public relations Marines. It was easy to see that they had been specially trained in the kind of good vibes that help a person get along with anyone who happens by.

Their comic-book superhero manners aside, you could tell that this was not an invading force that had just come ashore by the fact that they had police protection. A few of the city police had the unenviable task of directing rush-hour traffic around the military display that occupied the center of the square.

They took on this job with surprisingly consistent good humor. It was the kind of smiling, good-natured persistence you would expect to see in the parking lot at Disneyland, but it was surprising to see here given the degree of difficulty and the usual strained mood of the city police. And this was seen not just at the square, but among all the police within several blocks, and also in varying degrees among the people passing by, many of whom had the inconvenience of having to walk an extra minute or two because of the rearranged square.

The only explanation for this is that the professional good vibes of the Marines rubbed off on the police and everyone else in the immediate area.

Granted, this is not an effect you ordinarily expect to see: a police force, or anyone at all for that matter, having their mood uplifted by a military unit that is passing through town. Even on Star Trek that is a scene you rarely see. But it is clearly what happened in this case. I don’t often see pedestrians thanking police officers at an intersection, but those were the kind of elevated manners I saw regularly in the square last week.

It is the best example I have seen lately of the reach that personal energy can have. The number of Marines was tiny compared to the thousands of people affected by the new energy in the square. And you can be sure that some of that improved energy will stick to that area for the next few weeks, if not longer, after the Marines’ visit itself is mostly forgotten.

It doesn’t take as much as you might think to change the energy of a place — in fact, it is something we all do every day. It is something we can learn to do well. We can have a useful impact on the energy of strangers even in situations when no one expects it. That’s what I saw last week when there were tanks in the square.