When did the world stop smiling? I’m not talking about smiling at your loved ones or your friends, but rather, just making eye contact with strangers that you encounter in your day-to-day life and giving a good old-fashioned “hello” or a simple smile. Maybe I’m just becoming more sensitive to it, but I distinctly feel as if humans have stopped smiling at each other.
Having lived in two of the most populated cities in the world (Los Angeles and Paris), I have had interactions with many different people and what I have noticed more and more over time has been an increasing lack of acknowledgment of our fellow human beings. Worse yet, people appear more and more afraid to even look each other in the eye and they definitely aren’t comfortable with a friendly smile. Of course, I realize there are differences between people living in a small city, village or in the countryside versus living in a big city, but this is precisely my point. Much of the world lives in medium sized to large sized cities so these are the very places that we need this “small town” friendliness.
I know this probably all sounds a bit naïve or utopic, or maybe you’re even wondering, “who the heck cares?,” but I would argue the lack of this small gesture of smiling at each other is a symbol of a greater lack of connection between human beings in general in our world today and another reason for so much violence and feelings of separateness. Think about it… when you walk in a neighborhood and people acknowledge you, smile at you, say “hello” for no apparent reason… how do you feel? Good, happy, as if you belong, as if you exist and are seen, safe, or part of a community? On the other hand, how do you feel when you walk down the street and no one acknowledges you, maybe they look at you with a scowl on their face, maybe they even bump into as they walk by or push you? Sure, if this happens one day, you might not feel that affected, but what happens over time when this is your normal day-to-day interaction with strangers in your community?
In my belief, it’s this kind of “ignoring” of each other that allows for us to treat each other as objects rather than actual living, breathing, feeling human beings. It’s harder to treat someone with disrespect, fear, disregard, anger, intolerance, etc. when you have a human connection with them. And, it’s also harder to commit acts of violence against people that you see as a fellow human and as someone that wishes you good will.
It still saddens me when I see some peoples’ look of confusion, suspicion or fear when I smile at them. I can just see their brains running with questions like, “why is she looking at me?” “what does she want?” “what’s wrong with her?” I’m a regular “smiler” and “hello’er” so I get to see various reactions but I continue to do it because there are the other reactions from people who smile back and say "hello" that do my heart good. It’s a tiny gesture in the grand scheme of things, I realize, but it’s my small way each day to not feed into a world filled with fear and anger. A way to offer a loving gesture towards someone who may need it or to simply connect with another human being on a basic level. To symbolically convey, “I see you and I acknowledge you with joy and with love.” Again, the act itself is seemingly small and inconsequential, but the underlying message and reasoning is deeper.
Imagine interacting with strangers each day with joy, laughter, smiles and a feeling of general goodwill. How would that feel? Imagine this over a period of days, weeks, years… do you think it would make a difference in your life? I do. I think it would make a huge difference in everyone's life if we went back to treating each other with basic courtesy, decency and the simple gestures of loving acknowledgement. Things like holding a door open for someone regardless of if they are a man or a woman, saying “excuse me” if you bump into someone, looking people in the eye, saying “please” and “thank you” and of course, smiling at them. Over time, these seemingly “simple” acts of kindness might just make a difference for you and your fellow human. Whether you’re walking down the street, sitting in a bus or subway, or just grocery shopping, try smiling at someone you don’t know. Give it a try. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Tania Manczarek is a licensed psychotherapist, intuitive energy healer and massage therapist. She is co-founder of Lotus Village, a healing community dedicated to mind, body and spiritual wellness, environmental awareness and responsible living. She currently lives in France where she offers individual services and wellness retreats. You can find more information about her and her projects at www.lotusvillage.org.