Have you ever been told to smile?
I have, many times. By photographers at school picture days. By my grandmother when I was feeling blue. In song lyrics. And by men my father’s age (50 ish) trying to, I assume, brighten my day.
Of course there are outliers, too. Sometimes, I’m sure, I’ve been told this by friends, or younger men, or older women. I’m sure most times I’ve been asked to perform this small action, it’s been out of sincere hope for my betterment and not out of judgement or complaint… even if that is the “easiest” way to take it.
To those of you who might not understand why judgement or complaint is the “easiest” way to take a request of this sort, I will try to explain. Perhaps an anecdote is the best way.
This morning my workplace held its monthly staff meeting. Upon leaving a gentleman closer to his sixties than my father who was waiting outside for the library to open said to me, “Smile. It can’t be that bad.” He demonstrated a smile for me after this, as if showing me what he meant for me to do.
At the time he said this to me, my mind was on work. I was going over the statistics shown in the meeting, the plans for upcoming months, and the new website launch we discussed. I was also thinking about the medications I needed to pick up between now and when I needed to be back at work (meetings always come at the beginning of workplace hours, so nobody has to miss the meeting. I work evening hours, typically, so I was to leave and come back later). I was wondering if I could go back to bed and get up in time for my return to work, or if that would throw off my entire schedule.
I don’t live a particularly difficult life, but life with depression seems to put things under a microscope that makes everything look harder than it is. I was not upset in any way, so I was quite confused. I was thinking about life “normally”, not overly critical, and his statement came like a slap to the face. Even when I was normal, I wasn’t happy enough for this man. I can only assume it appeared I wasn’t because my outward appearance wasn’t “glowing”, though it is quite possible of such.
I didn’t leave angry, just confused. I try my best to give every person the benefit of doubt — that their intentions are always pure and well-meant. So I tried dissecting his words. I wondered what my father would mean if he had been the man to say these things. After all, I understand my father much more than this stranger.
My best guesstimate is that my smile might make him feel better. That seeing me smile would make him feel accomplished, like he had bettered my day in some way. My first thought then was that this was selfish, that it would be my job to make him smile. My next thought was that there were kinder ways for him, or any person, to come across the same ends. He could have complimented me. He could have told a joke. He could have tried to relate to me in some way.
I think… what I meant to say with all of this, is that one should think before they speak. Especially, if when they speak it is to direct others. There is nothing wrong with direction. For that matter, I don’t find too much wrong with saying something hoping to gain an action from that person… if that doesn’t involve manipulation or cruelty. The thinking one should do, should involve questioning themselves and their intentions. Once your own intentions are figured, question whether this is the best method to take.
Unless you know me well enough to be certain of what I’m thinking, I’m guessing that telling me to smile isn’t going to get you to your end. And if it does, you’ve likely made me uncomfortable in the process. Is that what you wanted?