The Smiles Strangers Give Each Other

Of all the smiles strangers give each other, the safe smile is surely the most common. 

While out walking this morning, I got the safe smile from a fellow biking by. The lips are closed, tight, and turned up only slightly, so the skin around the eyes hardly crinkles. 

This smile keeps people at a distance from each other. I'm not interested in engaging, the safe smile says. But I'll acknowledge that you're in front of me. 

And I get it: we're two strangers, don't risk being over-eager. Don't risk that a friendly overture could go unreceived. The safety of the safe smile is that it can pass as no smile at all. 

But there's another kind of smile. Let's call it the generous smile. The lips part, the cheeks inflate, the eyes nearly disappear. Hello! the generous smile hollers out, no clue who you are, but doesn't matter - it's terrific to see you!

This smile is a rare and beautiful beast. And it holds a rare and beautiful power. It's hard to be on the receiving end and not respond in kind, whether out of surprise, delight, or something else entirely wonderful. 

The other day, I got the generous smile from a woman walking by. It was as though she delighted in seeing a fellow human being. And without thinking, I smiled back, generously.

The whole exchange took three seconds and not a word was said. But with those three seconds, my head was higher, my mood raised. 

So, perhaps the difference is this: the safe smile leaves us unchanged. But the generous smiles leaves us a little larger than we were before. 

Which can happen when one of us risks connection with another. 

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