I had two encounters last week (lucky me). They started off in exactly the same way. Both times I got on the metro and sat down at the same time as someone else. Both times I smiled at the other person. Both times I got a smile back…
As I discuss these encounters with a friend we talk about my willingness to stay open to encounters with strangers given the different reactions. We also talk about where the different reactions come from. How is it that a simple smile can do different things?
We agree that an encounter is really about the two people in it and at the same time it’s like a mirror. You meet a person and for the short moment you look into the other person’s eyes, you look into their soul. What does your smile do to them? And what does their reaction tell you about yourself as a result?
It’s a sum of their separate life experiences really.
I can’t know what my smile did to both strangers other than bring up something about a past experience that made them react the way they did, but here is what their reaction told me about me.
The first encounter ended in a way I would never want to smile at a stranger again. The person stared at me incessantly until I got off the metro 13 stops later. What expectation had I created? It was a long 13 stops of me feeling uneasy and insecure.
I was reminded that I have a problem with men looking at me. The encounter reminded me that I’m not totally free of my past yet. I felt discouraged to be who I am.
The second however made me want to never stop smiling. The person got off the metro and thanked me for my beautiful smile. He told me how good it was to see someone smile.
I felt recognized for just being me; a kind person. The encounter encouraged me to keep doing what I’m doing. I felt appreciated and free.
Tell me: What happens when a stranger smiles at you?