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.