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Smile! No costume required May 5, 2010

Posted by paulstella in Uncategorized.
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I’m as guilty as anybody. A stranger comes walking in my direction, and sometimes I find it easier to look down at my Blackberry—or simply look away. And I know it’s not just me. What’s so hard about sharing a smile and saying hello?

Well, apparently it’s not that hard—particularly when approached by a stranger in a tiger costume. People seem to light up and lower their guard in the presence of an oversized, fuzzy mascot.

I had some time to reflect on this during Imagine RIT: Innovation and Creativity Festival. Last weekend, the University News staff dedicated our exhibit at the annual event to the impact of mobile technology on news coverage, and I spent a good part of my day shooting video with a Flip Video camcorder. This gadget shoots beautiful HD images while sitting comfortably in the palm of your hand.

Tom Baker roaming the festival as Ritchie the mascot

One of the pieces I produced involved my friend Tom Baker making his first attempt at playing the part of RIT’s mascot, Ritchie. Tom’s a character to begin with, but hiding inside a tiger costume provided him a great opportunity to really set aside his inhabitations. If you don’t mind me saying, he was gr-r-r-r-r-r-reat!!

But as you look at the video, what I want you to notice is just how approachable he becomes. People love him—with the possible exception of one reluctant toddler (but he pretty much wins her over in the end too).

Here’s my thought. Maybe the costume is what liberates us from our defenses by exposing what we truly desire from others—camaraderie and affection. There’s not much risk in throwing ourselves into the embrace of a snuggly 7-foot mascot. But God forbid we smile at somebody coming down the hallway. We might look weird.

This week, Austin finishes his cashier training at Wegmans and he will go live on the register this weekend. He’ll be great, but the one thing I want to remind him is to always smile at customers as they approach—and offer a sincere greeting. I know what that means to me when I’m in line at the checkout. It makes such a difference.

Pretty soon, the Ritchie costume will be put in storage for the summer. But that doesn’t mean we can’t keep trying to be a bit more approachable with each other.

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