To smile or not to smile?


In keeping with the theme of yesterday’s post about kindness I wondered if I needed to up my game in relation to how I interact with strangers. Back many years ago, when I was a child, everybody saluted everyone else and your neighbour was (for the most part) one of your best friends. It was no big thing to smile and say hello as you went about your daily business. These days things are a little bit different.

For one thing, the younger generation are usually glued to their phones so you are lucky not to be knocked over as they ramble by let alone get a smile out of them. Older folk, I’ve noticed, often do take the time to smile. But it’s a quick smile usually accompanied by a glance at the ground. It’s as if they are afraid that they have violated today’s etiquette which seems to demand a certain disinterest in others (in real life anyway, online it’s another story entirely).

People of my age seem to lie somewhere in between. They remember the way things were done when they were small but are also afraid to rock the boat of modern living too much. They may smile. They may not. It depends on their mood and your own willingness to engage with them.

And so this leads me to my morning walk. I want my daughter to learn to be polite and smile as she goes about her day so shouldn’t I lead by example? I walk very early in the mornings so there are not a lot of people to practice on and those that are around seemed to be mainly scared of the manic grinning girl, desperately trying to catch their eye.

I became disheartened but then cheered up when another stranger saluted me. However, I then began to second guess myself. What if this woman, dressed so inconspicuously as an ordinary office worker clutching her latte, what if she is some type of psychopath? What if I have drawn her attention and she becomes obsessed with me? My mind ran away with the possibilities.

It is this kind of thinking that stops people’s natural interest in others. We read too many horror stories online and see too much hatred in the news. We have developed more than a healthy suspicion of strangers. While technology brings us closer together, it also serves to tear us apart. We become online friends so easily but in real life it’s the opposite.

But I think the real reason we don’t salute anymore is fear of rejection. Nobody wants their salute thrown back in their face or their smile greeted with a blank face. It’s a basic human want to be liked by others and rejection just stings so badly whether it’s from a stranger or a friend. And so I wonder – do I smile or not? I think I’ll take my cue from my little girl who smiles at everyone (especially if you are a man and have a dog!).

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