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Smile!

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Having spent a substantial measure of time in public places over the holiday period, and the post-holiday period, and, in fact, the post-post-holiday period, I have been left to draw some very disheartening conclusions about the state of our society. The realisation that struck me most was a simple, yet astonishingly important one: Is it me or do people not smile anymore?

I believe that there was time when you could walk down a street, catch the eye of a complete stranger, and simply share a smile. Perhaps the smile would be accompanied by a small nod or a comment on the weather. There is no benefit for either party, just the pure innocence of the moment. No such contact between mutual strangers exists anymore. In fact, it doesn’t even consider existing for fear of accusations of harassment of some sort.

Is smiling a distasteful act these days? It’s certainly a thankless endeavour. I was walking down a high street last week and I caught the eye of a man in his twenties, a complete stranger to me, and as an automatic response shot him harmless, pleasant smile. Rather than returning my smile, as I’d assumed he would, he glared at me as if my action had offended him in some way. I was quite taken aback, wondering if I’d imagined the whole encounter.

Later, however, my suspicions about smiling were developed further. As I walked into my favourite coffee shop, the girl who has served my non-fat white chocolate latte for the past year was walking out of the door. I smiled at her, offered a tiny wave. She looked blankly through me and continued out of the door. Admittedly, she may have not recognised me, or may have been having an unusually bad day, but does it really take that much compassion to muster a smile for a familiar stranger?

I think perhaps these sorts of encounters reveal something to us about our society, and the negative state it exists in as a result of fear. As a race, we are considerably less compassionate than we used to be. We are obsessed with identity theft, credit card fraud, terrorist acts. The media have certainly had a hand in this issue, but to what extent are the people of our society allowing themselves to be changed by the age that we live in? What’s that phrase? “It’s a small world”? Well, then, why do we distance ourselves from each other?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t much like the idea of a world where we are driven so far by fear that we don’t even interact with one another. So do me a favour, next time you walk down the street and a stranger smiles at you, smile back at them. Smile back at them for the good of humanity.





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