I love to smile. To quote the wise and now-iconic film character Buddy the Elf, one could say "smiling's my favorite". The older I get, the more I like the act of a decent, real smile, particularly with a stranger. You know what I mean, a full smile that kind of squints your eyes, that conveys with it a great deal more than simple courtesy. Not a pose-for-a-picture-smile or a smile-cause-I'm-supposed-to smile--I'm not a huge fan of those. No, I'm talking about a genuine smile toward a person with whom one may have no other interaction.
I didn't realize the value of the smile until recently, when I began to notice the affect of it on folk. As something of an introvert, I usually dodged eye-contact and the smile as a child. I am unsure of what I was afraid, but regardless I would often avoid people's gaze and evade their visual communication as best I could. I looked away when someone smiled in my direction, and to be honest, I cannot fathom why. Needless to say, this stopped in my adolescence. In my formative years, the smile became more of a cursory act of social courtesy, and oftentimes, said action was done without any intent beyond the old motivation, "I'm supposed to do this, so I am doing it". I would see people, make eye contact, not want to be creepy, so I'd smile. You know the drill; no big, right? This, of course, carried into adulthood (as so many strange adolescent behaviors do) and adapted into a sign of emotional stability and a sort of communication tool. The cursory smile toward strangers on a college campus or folks at the store seemed to suggest little more than "Yeah, I'm human; you're human. Let's not make a big deal of this". It's a strange dynamic, and I am sure that some scientists who are smarter than me have collected and crunched the details to better understand why and how we smile the way we do.
The reason I bring up these developmental stages is because something changed in me as an adult in regard to the smile. I do not know why it happened or when or how, but I have developed a real sense of "meaning it" when I smile these day, particularly when doing so toward strangers. What do I mean when I say "meaning it"? Well, I'm not sure exactly. It's so hard to put into words, but I suppose I mean any number of things, depending on the situation. Maybe when I give hearty, full smile, I mean "I am glad you exist!", or "I really value what you do" or "Welcome to the Lego toy aisle; I hope your time here is as fun as mine has been"--I mean these types of things, but that's not really it either.
I don't know; I am really having a hard time with the verbiage on this; and while I do not know the origin of how I came to this outlook, I have full clarity as to why I maintain it. People have value. And I don't mean value in and of themselves because they are sentient beings. People have real value far beyond their molecular construction or brain waves or ability to make and assess their choices. I believe, very strongly, that human beings carry in them an inherent, deeply-rooted value, that comes from having a non-biological but wholly real soul, a component of them that makes them who they are regardless of biology. As a follower of Christ, I like to think of it as an "eternal value of one created", meaning that the soul of this person carries with it an eternal weight and as such has some level of real significance. For me, this outlook has cultivated in me is a love that says, "I really want your best, not for my sake or humanity's sake in general, but for your sake specifically, because God made you, uniquely and individually."
And with that as my motivator, the full smiles I have beeng giving lately have yielded, more often than not, a similar response. What motivates the other individual, I am not sure; but the returned gesture is always beautiful, regardless of the age or gender from whom it comes. I have seen skeptical eyes alight with genuine gladness over reading the expression on my face, and I have seen a visage of apathy over existence itself transform into one of delight, as if the person felt they received a compliment. Actually, that's not it, I think it may run deeper--as if we've shared a conversation containing nothing more than a certain awareness of each other's significance and worth without having even exchanged names.
Dah! I feel like I am not conveying this well. I guess my bottom line on this post--which may have been better tweeted as a single statement--is this, when I make eye contact with a stranger, when we connect briefly in that way, I want to convey to that person that I believe they have value, and I feel that a big, honest grin does that (though I believe the sincerity of the smile is more so conveyed through the eyes than the mouth), and I have been warmed and delighted at the response others have to such a gesture. In a way, the real smile is an expression of love telling someone that I am glad for our crossing paths, albeit briefly, because they have real value and eternal significance. Man, why is that so hard to explain? I don't know. Perhaps I'm not even fully aware of why I find these connections so meaningful to me. Perhpas it's because the smile carries with it a certain truth that cannot be described with words (least of all not by those of a novice writer). Or perhaps it's because I am trying to be brief, but a sincere smile is like a great picture, and we all know how many words that is worth.