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A smile can go a long way

As I turned to the main road, my smartphone rang. I looked at the car’s dashboard display for a fraction of a second to see the caller name while I reflexively whirled the wheel around the street corner. The brief lapse in concentration was enough to miss a biker. Fortunately, both of us stopped at the right time but he ranted expletives at my family, particularly the women. Undeterred, I opened the window, smiled at him and said, “I am sorry.” He immediately paused, and then just advised me kindly to look on all sides of the road while driving.

That is the power of the unique and wonderful act called smile. It can break barriers and bridge chasms. The power of the smile is often underestimated by us. Despite being the only species with this graceful expression, humans do not comprehend the myriad strengths of smile and often forget to use it. Of course, a few primates like chimps can smile, but it is more a politicians’ grin rather than a spontaneous smile.

Just like the innumerable gifts of nature which we have taken for granted, I had missed the countless influence of smile in my early years. The awakening occurred in my early twenties when I worked as a junior doctor in a hospital. I joined recently then and when we, a group of doctors, were having coffee together, one of the senior doctors told me, “You seemed to have missed an important developmental milestone.”

Developmental milestone refers to various social, motor and vocal skills which a child acquires at each period of its development in infancy and childhood such as rolling over, standing and speaking. To my despair, he declared, “You haven’t got your social smile yet.” While I considered myself a pleasant person, his harsh comment rather irked me.

At three to four months of age, a growing child starts recognising familiar faces and in an attempt to interact with them, it expresses the social smile. It is typically towards the parents, grandparents and siblings initially, and then slowly extends towards other familiar faces. It is nature’s evolutionary attempt to increase the bonding between humans. It is a way of expression to pronounce one’s affability. But somewhere during our growth and interaction with society, we have been taught directly or indirectly that strangers are not to be smiled at. After long days of introspection, I made it a point to reclaim my lost milestone.

Smiling is contagious. If we smile at a person, he would smile back. In Western countries, it is part of their culture to smile even at strangers on the road whenever there is eye contact. They may feel offended if a smile is not reciprocated. But in our culture, we are afraid to smile. The shopkeeper refrains from smiling for the fear of requests for discounts. The employer is afraid to smile fearing that he may not get the job done by the employee. The worker shows a grim face at his boss fearing he will be burdened with more work. Likewise, the teacher is afraid to smile at the students, the driver forgets to smile at the passengers and the doctor remains morose when examining patients.

Smiling has a deep impact on our brain and our external persona. It increases the endorphin hormone secretion in our body which gives a sense of well-being in the brain. It makes us feel younger and energetic. It enhances positive vibes in the work zone. We are enthralled at the sight of a child’s social smile and every time the infant smiles, our happiness multiplies. But why should the smile be just a child’s domain? As we matured into adults, we have made up our minds not to smile at others. Imagine a situation where the doctor greets you with a smile when you are sick. When did we last receive the maid into our home with a smile? Won’t it be soothing to see the security personnel or a lift operator smile at us at the end of a hard day? An act of smile does not cost a penny or a calorie. For, smile is the shortest distance between two people. Keep smiling!

rishiortho@gmail.com

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Printable version | Jan 16, 2021 3:44:43 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/a-smile-can-go-a-long-way/article30890468.ece

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