Monday, September 6, 2010

Say Cheese

It's happened to us all at one time or another: we're walking down a long hallway or sidewalk and we pass a stranger. With all the kindness we can muster, we smile widely and offer a greeting of some sort. And what do they do? Sometimes they smile back. But quite often they scowl or look away. When that happens I often feel like I want to take it back, as though giving a smile away to someone who clearly doesn't appreciate it somehow diminishes me. Really? Giving away kindness is only worthwhile when a person reciprocates?

A few years ago I was falling deeply in love. I had just gone back to school full-time and between classes I would call my boyfriend (now husband) to catch up. One day I was particularly charmed by whatever he was saying and as I was walking across campus with my phone up to my ear, I wore a huge smile on my face. And though my face was only lit up because of what he was saying, I noticed that an unusual number of people were smiling at me. Only later did it occur to me that they were smiling because I was smiling at them first.

I've been trying to practice giving away smiles more often. I still get insecure at times and want to protect myself by looking straight ahead with an aloof look on my face. But I make deals with myself: Smile at the next five people you see, and decide in advance that it won't get under your skin if they offer a less than favorable response. Somehow if I go in to it with that mindset it seems easier. I suppose it has to do with expectations, i.e. "If I am nice to you, you owe it to me to be nice back." Problem is, sometimes we interpret things wrongly. A scowl might be saying, "I was just diagnosed with cancer and I'm scared to death," or "I wonder if my husband is having an affair" or "What am I gonna do if I get laid off?" It may also be saying, "I'm worthless." In short, peoples' unfriendly responses probably have very little to do with me.

Here's my challenge: take an hour or an afternoon or an entire day and purpose to smile at people more. And then see what that does to you. Does it feel draining? Energizing? Do you feel like you've given away parts of yourself that you can't get back, or are you somehow changed by offering kindness to strangers? If you actually do it I'd love to hear what happens.

And if you want to hear a nice rendition of Charlie Chaplin's song "Smile," you can do so here. I love it.

Photo Credit: Muffet on Flickr
Liscensed under creative commons

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