common threads #1: smiling

Posted: January 24, 2012 in Observations and Commentary
Tags: , , , , ,

Over on Flickr I belong to a group called The Common Threads Project. The project identified 78 universal human behaviors and traits which “bridge the divides of gender, race, creed, culture and class.” Group members are encouraged to post photographs illustrating these traits and tagging them as appropriate. It’s a nifty idea which embodies our commonalities in an effective and occasionally powerful way.

That being said I am not here to post photos, at least not under that oversized umbrella. This isn’t about photography. I’ll leave that to the Flickr group. Instead I am borrowing their list of 78 for my own selfish writing purposes. My intent is to blather about each of these traits (hopefully weekly) until I plow through all 78. And you, my friends, are the lucky recipients of said blathers. Hey, don’t go clicking away! Slow down, Kimosabe! At least have the courtesy to feign nominal interest. Pretend to possess the endurance to see this through. How painful can it be? Wait, don’t answer that. Just smile and nod. Very good.

On that confident note let’s get started. Number one on the Common Threads hit parade: Smiling.

People melt around babies for many reasons, but I think one of the primary ones is because of their smile. A baby’s smile is a monument to honesty, a masterpiece of sincerity. It contains no artifice. It’s never offered with intent of manipulation. Behind a baby’s smile sit no hidden agendas or devious schemes. All you’ll find is joy, simple unfettered joy. A baby’s smile is Chapter One, Verse One in the Happiness Bible. It shines with purity, candor at its most candid. The indisputable truth communicated through their little smiling face shoots right to the core of what moves us. It zips through our veins and fills us with a kind of wonder, reaffirming our fading hope that this world is still capable of inspirational beauty. Its power is such that we can literally feel the stress and poison drain from our body. You want to shake the doldrums? Forget the pills, toss aside the therapy. Instead find a smiling baby. That’s the real stuff.

In many ways a child’s smile is much the same, at least the smile you get when you unexpectedly light them up. At some point in their development children figure out how to elicit responses with behaviors, behaviors which are not always authentic. Children learn certain words, voices and facial expressions get reaction. They tilt their head to the side, exaggerate their actions, flash their big cheesy grin. However, children are still too enamored with their newfound acting chops to bother with subtlety. When they act, they inevitably overact. Their moves are so obviously telegraphed that the only people they can truly sway are other children. But lay a good surprise on a child and all that artifice dissolves. What you get as your reward is their real smile, the smile of their infancy. It’s a minor miracle of sorts.

Smiling takes on new, often cynical, overtures as we mature. At some point we realize we no longer take a smile for the simple act it is. Sincerity is questioned. If someone smiles too easily or too quickly people attach sinister motives. If a smile lingers too long it is dismissed as phony. If the mouth smiles but the eyes do not, the effect is worse than not smiling at all. Despite all these barriers the power of a real smile remains potent. Watch somebody doing what they love – a musician getting lost in her music, a nurse easing the pain of his patient, a gymnast sticking her landing – and you’ll see a smile that cuts through the skepticism. It blasts through because it is true. Like the smile of youth. That smile lies within each of us waiting to be tapped.

We often make resolutions we’ll never keep, resolutions which point inward. Instead try a different tact. Resolve to smile. Not because you feel like you must. Not because you are attempting to gain position. Not because you were encouraged by a blog entry. Smile because of the good things in your life. Smile because it puts people at ease and brings a bit of light into their day. You might be surprised how powerfully that light reflects back on you.

  1. rangewriter says:

    I am convinced! I smile a lot. I’m happy a lot so it’s a natural offshoot. I’ve observed over the years that people smile at me a lot and when I stop to wonder why…is it my goofy face, my wonky hair, my loping gait? …I realize that they are merely reacting to what they see. Smiles are infectious.


  2. BrainRants says:

    You’re right, and I mainly only return babies’ smiles.


  3. whiteladyinthehood says:

    I’m a sucker for a nice smile…


  4. kayjai says:

    “Nice post” she says smiling 🙂


  5. Tori Nelson says:

    This post makes me smile. For. Real. I love that you mentioned the change from a baby smile to that of an adult. I had to kick myself the other day when a nice lady was smiling at me in the supermarket. I spent a solid 20 minutes trying to figure out what her problem was before I finally told myself to shut up. She smiled at me. It was nice of her to do. I smiled back!


  6. Wonderful post! I often quote Buddy the Elf when people catch me smiling for no discernible reason, “I like to smile. Smiling’s my favorite!”


  7. You are absolutely right


  8. Kaitlin says:

    What a great idea, and an even better one to appropriate this for writing. Great piece too.


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