Like many of us, there have been times when I found it difficult to engage with other people. Even now, and even being the generally gregarious type of person that I am, I have moments of profound shyness. So much so, that I would consider myself to be uncomfortable in public settings far more often than I am comfortable. I would consider myself more willing than wanting of attention.
Which makes it all the more noticeable when someone spots that in me and moves to put me at ease. It’s not only kindness, but awareness. Awareness of their environment and of the comfort of those present.
One might consider that to be a Cancerian quality. As a Cancer myself, I’m aware of that categorical trait. And I do my best to exhibit it. I’m sure there are other astrological signs that are known for this. But what if we were to adopt it on purpose regardless of our sign or tendency?
I have a neighbor across the street who is easy to spot as one who feels more comfortable being by themselves. Or is that just my assumption? Do I look at people who appear to be shy and let myself off the hook by assuming they prefer it that way?
I’ve also known people who talk a good game about wanting to be alone, but I deeply suspect otherwise. They give off clues and hints that they are justifying their loneliness as a preference, when really it’s just an inner belief that loneliness is their lot in life. And that they might as well get used to it.
I choose to ignore it. When I see my neighbor across the street sitting by herself in front of her house, I wave to her and smile. That’s the only time I have ever seen her smile.
There’s another woman whom I don’t know at all but lives in a house that I pass by frequently. She always looks so sad sitting out there by herself. At some point she and I caught eyes and so I smiled at her. Her face absolutely lit up. She had the largest, most beautiful smile. And now we smile at each other at least two to three times a week when there’s nice weather. I love it.
This takes next to no effort, but I feel like it makes a difference. I can say in all honesty that it makes a difference in my life. I look forward to seeing these women and smiling at them for no reason other than friendliness.
Too often we make assumptions about other people. With so little information to go on, we fill in the gaps with whatever helps us justify our lack of involvement or care. But what harm could it do to be friendly for no reason?
An interesting scientific sidebar is the fact that the act of smiling literally tricks your brain into believing it’s happy. It releases dopamine and serotonin just from the muscular act of forming a smile.
To me, this means that when I make someone else smile, I am literally increasing dopamine and serotonin in their own brains, not just from smiling at them, but in triggering their own smile. To say nothing of the extra brain juices I get also for my own smiling activity as well as the satisfaction of making someone else feel the same.
This present time in our human history is rife with reasons to frown. The extra stressors we have in our daily lives right now make it difficult to remember these simple ideas and put them to work in our lives.
But if we take the time to attempt to be friendly to those for whom friendliness from others might very well be a rare occurrence, how much might that impact the other parts of our lives that we may think have no connection? Is there something to be said for just being nice as an antidote to so much else that’s wrong with the world?
Any bumper stickers worth of advice would say yes. And yet how often do we actually do it?
You may forget these words tomorrow. So be it. But today, make an effort. Even if it’s only one day’s worth. We have to do a little something every day in order to get through this. Let this be what you do today.
Wil Darcangelo, M.Div, is the Minister at the First Parish UU Church of Fitchburg and of the First Church of Christ, Unitarian in Lancaster. He is the producer of The UU Virtual Church of Fitchburg and Lancaster on YouTube. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @wildarcangelo. His blog, Hopeful Thinking, can be found at www.hopefulthinkingworld.blogspot.com.