I find myself asking that (in my head, of course) of other people throughout the school year. It's my response to being thrown in amongst the throngs of parents shepherding their kids to class or attending PTA meetings or class picnics. Here we are, adults, having lived a couple of decades at least. We should have some experience interacting with others, right?
Those of us you that have given birth have been in what must be a far more awkward situation than having to acknowledge another person. Especially one with whom we at least have in common that our children attend the same school. You have had a group of people, some of whom you have never met before, doing all kinds of invasive things to you. You survived that. Could a simple head nod or wave be any more difficult?
One might think that who I am and what I am doing at your kid's school might be of at least passing interest to you. I certainly don't look like I'm heading to a job after dropping my kids off each morning, or like I've come from a job to pick them up. Who is this guy who could use a shave and has time to be at school at 2:30pm in the afternoon? What kind of job could he have that he gets to wear flip-flops, shorts and a t-shirt? Does he even have a kid here?
Hmmm... sounds like I want them to take an interest in me. Sure, that would be nice. It always feels good when someone seems to care about us, or finds us interesting. But really, I just want them to acknowledge the rest of us, return our waves, to give us more than a blank stare or an awkward downcast expression. I just want them to be acknowledged in return, and for us all to benefit from acknowledging each other.
I try to be a happy person, and it often seems that these non-communicative types are deeply unhappy. I try to keep that in mind when I am making all these little judgments in my head about why so many of the parents don't seem to know that there are others of us there. They have a lot on their plates, they are thinking about work, or the disagreement they just had with their husband or wife. Maybe each of us has a limited capacity for being friendly with everything else we have going on. Maybe we have so many people that need things from us that we just don't have anything left for the folks that just happen to travel in the same circles as us.
Okay, so that's a reason for people ignoring each other. Just don't have it in me. Only so much to go around.
The thing is, it really doesn't take much to wave, or nod, or even smile and say "Hi!". And it's amazing what you can get back. For one thing, it spreads a positive feeling of being connected instead of furthering the isolation that I think some people feel. Being acknowledged feels good, and acknowledging someone else feels good, too. For folks like me, who are constantly creating in their heads, imagining people's backstories, the nod each morning can lead to a "Hi!" each morning to eventual conversations. These usually prove my imagined backstory extremely inaccurate. This reminds me that I don't know everything, and makes me less likely to judge people and situations the next time.
Those conversations lead to the exchange of experiences, to a commonality and collective-ness. That feels good. It gives one perspective on one's own life to hear about the lives of others. It brings you into the moment. It gives you another purpose to be there that goes beyond the routine of your day. Maybe you are meant to find out that someone else is going through difficulties that make yours seem insignificant. Maybe you are meant to do the same for someone else. Maybe you will be lucky enough to share with others, or to make someone learn that you can't judge a book by it's cover.
That is an awful lot in return for just saying "Hi!".