The power of a smile

It’s so easy to get sucked into life that you feel you can’t smile as much. Walking to an appointment, waiting on the bus, buying food at the market, taking a taxi… We become so occupied with ourselves that genuine smiles to strangers are quite uncommon.

When I first arrived at Sarvodaya, I met Chris — a Rotary scholar researching the Sarvodaya movement — and I was really impressed by his outgoing and seemingly infinite supply of charisma. No matter where we went, no matter who we encountered, Chris would smile wide and extend a warm hello, “Ibowon, brother!” With that, Chris would connect with locals, tuk-tuk drivers, restaurant owners, tourists, children… Everyone, it seemed.

Ssince then I’ve taken it upon myself to smile as much as possible, make eye contact and extend a warm greeting to, well, everyone I can. It didn’t take me long to realize how this simple action can transform my experiences. I recall many times when I saw alertness and defensiveness in the eyes of strangers, and a simple smile “disarmed” them, immediately releasing tensions. A genuine smile has led me into new terrain and earned me friendships where I didn’t think they could be found. Even when communication was fractured or completely unsuccessful, a smile turned the awkward moment into a comical one that was shared by all.

To be honest, I don’t know how I could manage to continue this whole year alone unless I was comfortable smiling at complete strangers. With the exchange of a smile these strangers have come to help me, often going way out of their way to do so.

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