The other day, I picked up a book by Dale Carnegie, entitled, How to Win Friends and Influence People.
I have seen this book around for a very long time, and it has been on many best-seller lists for a while. I decided to give this book a read.
What I certainly did not expect from reading the book was a torrential burst of emotions that overwhelmed me. This happened when I read Part II, Section 2 of the book about smiling.
Here are some excerpts:
“Your smile is a messenger of your good will. Your smile brightens the lives of all who see it. To someone who has seen a dozen people frown, scowl, or turn their faces away, your smile is like the sun breaking through the clouds. Especially when that someone is under pressure from his bosses, his customers, his teachers or parents or children, a smile can help him realise that all is not hopeless – that there is joy in the world.”
“The value of a smile… It costs nothing, but creates much. It enriches those who receive, without impoverishing those who give. It happens in a flash and the memory of it sometimes lasts forever. None are so rich they can get along without it, and none so poor but are richer for its benefits. It creates happiness in the home, fosters good will in a business, and is the countersign of friends. It is rest to the weary, daylight to the discouraged, sunshine to the sad, and Nature’s best antidote for trouble. Yet it cannot be bought, begged, borrowed, or stolen, for it is something that is no earthly good to anybody till it is given away.”
So why would such a chapter stir up so much emotion in me?
I’ve always loved smiling. As a kid, I smiled a lot. It was very natural, spontaneous, for me to smile. As a kid, and even in my teenage years, people often commented that I had a beautiful smile, a smile that made them feel very warm and welcomed.
“Never stop smiling,” they said.
It was a smile I wore with much pride and happiness. It didn’t cost a thing to smile, and yet it made people happy.
I enjoyed smiling, and smiled all the time.
Until 8 years ago.
Dale Carnegie said that a smile “cannot be bought, begged, borrowed, or stolen.” But you can crush a person’s smile, and make him not smile much ever again.
I used to work closely with a certain Catholic priest (whom I will not name for various reasons). One day, he thought that it was best for my own personal development by saying:
“You smile too much. You lack gravitas. You look childish and immature. No one will ever take you seriously. Stop smiling. You should apply more gravity in your demeanour.”
Those words changed me. It crushed me.
For years I’ve been told that people loved my smile. Now, I was told that my smile is my weakness – that it was my smile that made me look immature and childish, a smile that would lose the respect of people.
Of course, I was rather young and naive, and so the words of a priest whom I looked up to meant a lot to me. Those words held a similar weight to Gospel truths. It was painful.
My self-esteem took a huge dive. I’ve never quite regained the confidence I used to have. And for the past eight years, I have been secretly struggling with grave insecurity about being taken seriously. Should I smile or should I not? Would people respect me, or judge me as childish? (It also doesn’t help that I look much too young for my age)
Don’t get me wrong. I still smile, but only in the presence of friends and other people whom I feel comfortable smiling to. I know, with comfort and confidence, that these are people who have accepted me for who I am, and that my smile or appearance wouldn’t matter to them.
But I stop smiling when I meet new people. For eight years, I’ve been constantly resisting the spontaneous urge to smile, as I am constantly haunted by the words of the priest, on the importance of looking serious so as to be respected. But I try too hard with the internal struggle that I end up being very awkward and uncomfortable most of the time. And I think people feel the discomfort that is in me, and they too feel uncomfortable.
This has become a more regular problem for me. Especially now that I’m working and have to meet other people. Interactions have been very awkward and stressful because of the internal struggle within me.
And I can assure you that I smile a lot less than before now. I think I frown more than I smile these days.
So, imagine just how liberated and cheated I felt when I read Dale Carnegie’s chapter on the power of smiles. Here is a man advising people – professionals even – to smile, and not to be afraid of smiling.
Here is a man telling people just how powerful smiles can be.
And here I am, dealing with the confusion between those haunting words of the priest and Carnegie’s liberating words.
It is ok to smile.
Don’t be afraid to smile!
Several days have passed since I read the book. I have thought deeply about the matter, and have since made the resolution to smile more without fear. I am still haunted by the words of that priest.
But I will try to put it behind me, and I will dare to smile especially to new people I meet – this was something I used to do when I was much younger.
I don’t need to take stupid advice from a priest who knows nothing about being human.
If anything, I have come to the conclusion that it is far better to smile and reveal one’s humanity – even the weakness of one’s humanity – through a smile, and be respected for it; than to worry and fake an appearance of authority and gravitas just to be respected.
It is ok to smile.