This morning as I travelled into London, I decided to try something different. I chose to smile at every single person I came across and whose eyes met with mine no matter how far apart we were. I decided that instead of sinking my head into my news paper or the FT on my iPad, or the movie I’ve been looking to finish, or focus on my ‘sitting’ and mindfulness practice, or even close my eyes to catch up on my much needed sleep or on those oh so many other things that would occupy my time and mean that I don’t need to engage with others … I chose today to experience the responses and reactions I would I get if I smiled at every person, every stranger whose eyes met mine.
As I was contemplating when to start my little experiment, I noticed my procrastination and keenness to work out in my head the best location, or the best stop on the train that would lend it self to my experiment. It soon dawned on me that I was going into creative avoidance! You know – that thing we do to avoid doing something we may just find uncomfortable.
Eventually I mustered the courage. I started. I began to smile. I smiled at every one whose eyes caught mine, no matter how close or far, and even held their gaze. Softly. Welcoming. The responses from the recipients of my experience were remarkable and varied. Some people shuffled in their seats and at first looked away, only to look round shyly to match my eyes and smile back at me. Others looked surprised and some looked afraid! Some had expressions of disdain – ‘who are you looking at?’ – their expressions shouted loud and clear. Some indeed looked quizzically over their shoulders assuming I was smiling with another and then on realising it was them I was looking at, responded with a big smile too, at times accompanied by a nod. Children were the most engaging I found. They smiled with eyes that sparkled. We were all children once.
As I continued with my experiment, and noticed in myself an emerging comfort and thereby an increasing openness, more persons initiated a conversation with me. The conversation that most impacted me was with a person who on first observing him had the most unfriendly expression one could have. But as soon as he smiled back, his eyes lit up, encouraging me to smile even more. We started talking and by the end of the journey, he’d introduced me to the lady sat next to him who turned out to be his wife and the little girl sat next to her who turned out to be their daughter. They were on a day trip into London. In a short time, we discovered we’d been to similar places on holiday, shared lots of dislikes and perspectives in life.
As I arrived and walked into my destination’s building, I reflected on how good it felt to smile and to connect with people even though they were strangers. I noticed that my conversation had changed a group of strangers into non-strangers. They had become acquaintances and over time may become friends. I noticed too how I felt in myself - a little more upbeat; that little more happier with the world. I found myself open to what the rest of the day would offer me – what little surprises and delights may come my way.
My conclusion is this. We may all be strangers at first, indeed passers by on our individual journeys in life. But in truth we are all - every single one of us - connected and with a little smile we could change the way the world feels for ourselves and indeed for others.
You see, when we smile, genuinely smile, we say to the world and to the people we encounter: “you’re welcome. You’re okay and I’m okay”. And in our world of work, when we smile and genuinely smile, we say to our colleagues: “you’re welcome. You have my attention” And if to some people you are a leader, your warm and genuine smile will say: “ You matter. Your opinion counts. I am open to what you say. My status is only a box on an organisation chart because without you, we will not win”
So what’s in a smile? In a smile when given from the heart, it can say and convey so much. In a smile you can make the world a better place, make one person’s day that little bit brighter and worth getting through and that person may indeed be you.