Do You Smile at Strangers?

I smile and make eye contact with passersby on the street. I have done this as long as I can remember. This is a reflex for me that is burned so deep in my synapses that it's akin to breathing. I don't think about it, I just do it, because if I don't, my mother will come up out of the grave, clench my elbow in a death grip, and drag me into a side room to ball me out about where my manners have gone. I was taught that, when you pass someone on the street, you make eye contact, smile and nod as you pass, then you go on about your business. It didn't matter whether the person passing you was male or female, old or young, black or white. The point was that you extended the social graces that were requisite for that particular type of exchange.

As long as I can remember, this was never a problem. Quite the contrary, it was expected, especially in a small town like mine. You'd be walking towards someone and they to you on the same sidewalk, hallway, or whatever and when you got within 10-20 feet of each other you looked up, made brief eye contact, smiled and/or nodded, then averted your gaze and went on about your day.

However, I have noticed in the last few years that very few people want to make this connection anymore. Most people won't return your smile and many others return it with a scowl, rolled eyes, or other forms of indignation. 

In today's climate of hypersensitivity, where we all keep our heads down, avoid eye contact, where victimhood is so chic that we feel personally validated every time we are offended, we now even use the very same social graces that were expected of us as kids as reasons to bask in this new and titillating moral outrage. 

People seem to have given up on the idea that a passerby whom they do not know is worthy of acknowledgment, which seems so contradictory to the constant validation that so many people seem to crave today. Now more than ever, people seem to need to feel recognized, whatever their accomplishments or lack thereof. They crave being valued, regardless of whether they've actually done anything to make themselves valuable. So many people want to be recognized but refuse to recognize anyone else.

So, yeah... I'm smiling. I'm smiling at YOU. Get over it. I'm happy dammit! I have stress and bills and a leaky roof and arguments with my wife and all kinds of shit but I choose to be happy and being happy makes me feel genuinely thrilled to pass that along to everyone, regardless of sex, regardless of race or any other factor, and just pass it along in the form of a smile to a stranger. If you can't accept it, that's not my problem. You can't bring me down.  :)

All the best,
-Clyde -