Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Don't tell people to smile
Our office is connected to the Department of the Interior via a super-cool underground tunnel with checkpoints! While on the way over there I saw a woman dressed in workman's clothes (heavy overhauls, thick boots, dust all over her).
This wasn't particularly interesting in itself, as they are gutting the Interior and it looks like a warzone. Except that as she walked by she kept her head down almost at her chin, and stared at the ground as if her eyes were lead weights.
At some points in my life in the past, I would have had an impulse to go up to the woman and say something like, "Smile!" or "Whatever it is, it isn't that bad," or even "Allah loves you!"
But no longer. Now, I know that any of those comments are really, really shitty to say to someone.
Here's why: If you are genuinely happy, great! But while happiness and loneliness are contagious, that still doesn't mean you should dish it out to people like servings of porridge. If someone is really sad, there's a reason why. It could be something really big (chronic pain, death in the family, homeless and cold) or comparability smaller (hates their job, is mad at a coworker, feels ugly today). But whatever it is that's wrong - to them, this experience is all encompassing and possibly very embarrassing as well.
It's a safe bet they don't want to be reminded of it any more than they won't to be cheered up. So even if the sight of them makes you sad, let them go on their way unmolested.
Now, if you have a chance to help a person who looks miserable - i.e. hold open a door, help them pick up a dropped package, telling them you like their shoes / sweater / Transformers lunchbox, by all means do. That often works.