We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.
- Mother Teresa
Without going into excruciating detail in analysis of kinds of smiles, let's just say that they come in two basic types. With one type, the emotion is in-coming, with the other it flows outward.
Some people smile at how they benefit from a particular situation. They might smile with glee as they leave their bank with more cash in hand than they withdrew from their account because the teller made a counting error. They don't care if the bank lost money. It didn't, but the money to make up the difference would come from the teller's pay. The customer may still not care, only interested in his personal benefit.
Another person might smile at the hurt of another. They delight at the suffering of someone because they feel it makes them superior. Or because the person suffering was falsely accused of doing something when the guilty party was the smiler.
A kidnapper would smile at a child before grabbing the child and forcing her into his car and driving away.
These smiles all involve benefits or perceived benefits for the smiler, sometimes (often) at the expense of another person.
Mother Teresa would not even acknowledge those kinds of smiles as real smiles. She only knew smiles that emanated love. One look at that exceedingly wrinkled ancient face and you knew there was love behind it, nothing but love going out to whoever received the smile.
When we give a gift to a charity, most of us know nothing of where it will go, how it will be used. When we smile a warm smile at another person with the objective of helping that person to have a better day we don't know how much good it will do. We know where it will go and who it will benefit, but we don't know how much or in what way it will benefit that person.
I am reminded of a time many years ago when it struck me that no one entering or leaving the bank branch I used regularly either smiled at others coming toward them or held the door open for them. I decided that I would follow that practice anyway. Every time I went into or out of that branch, I held the door for someone and smiled warmly at them.
About a year later I noticed that some people were holding the door for me, a few even smiled while doing it. Two years after that almost everyone I met going into or out of that branch held the door open for me if they went through first. Many smiled, not all.
Why the change? I submit that someone started it. Someone made a snowball and started it rolling downhill. I would like to think that it was me, but that doesn't matter.
What matters is that when I go through the door of that bank now, someone ahead of me will almost certainly hold the door open for me and will likely smile at the same time. It's the smile and the gesture that count, not the fact that I might have begun something that spread.
I have read comments written by people whose lives were saved by a smile. Two that I can remember--one man, one woman--were thinking of ending their lives by their own hands. Someone did something nice for them, they smiled warmly, and the depressed people decided that the world might not be such a bad place after all. After that, the world looked different to them. I don't know the rest of their stories, but they don't matter.
Does a smile really have that much power? Can such a small gesture make such a huge difference in someone's life? Remember that for someone who is severely depressed, enough to consider taking his or her own life, nothing makes sense anyway. A smile given freely and warmly to them might be worth more to them at that particular moment than winning a lottery.
In fact, winning a lottery is something related to our impulse toward greed, which may well be something that is crushing the emotional wellbeing of a dpressed person.
Small gestures that show you care about others make huge differences in their lives.
When you smile warmly at someone who looks miserable, who looks as if the world just ran over their lonely lifeline and split it open, then you see that face transform into a smile in return, even if it's a weak one, you feel as if your life truly is worthwhile.
As the agencies that collect blood for medical purposes say, "It's in you to give."
A smile costs you nothing. Except a measure of emotional giving. Some have trouble making that gift. For them, those who smile for their own benefit, giving a smile to hlep someone else is not something they do.
The ultimate test of the value of a smile is when you smile at the person in the mirror and that person smiles back. It means the person in the mirror likes you.
Take that to the bank. And hold the door open for someone while you're there.
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want their children to know the value of a smile and the real worth it has when smiles are given to others. It's an important life lesson.
Learn more about these life lessons at http://billallin.com