Friday, May 07, 2010

Creating a world filled with smiles

Singaporeans seem purposeful, focused, serious and hard working. Some visitors and even some internal observers have noted the absence of outward friendliness critically. Is this ‘natural,’ I wondered. I have begun a simple experiment that has proved personally rewarding. I would not claim any larger significance.

The idea came from a podcast interview between, Scientist and Buddhist monk, Dr. Matthieu Ricard and ‘Speaking of Faith’ radio host Krista Tippett. Based on mind-brain studies of meditative practitioners, growing out of the Dalai Lama’s “Mind and Life” initiative, he was described by one neuropsychiatrist as “The Happiest Man in the World.” Not surprisingly, he disclaims this honor.

In response to Ricard’s observations about being kind to all, an idea that is central in the Buddha’s teachings, Krista posed two dilemmas. First, she asked, isn’t it difficult to be kind to everyone, when it seems so much more important to be kind to those close to you - children, family and close friends. Second, she asked, what do you think about being kind to people who are mean to you or people who seem to be the sources of evil in the world.

Ricard responded by drawing an analogy between individual kindness and the sun.

The sun, he observed, sheds its warmth equally on all, irrespective of whether they are good or bad people, saints or dictators. Kindness need not depend on how it is received, or by whom.

Easy to say but not so easy to do. My experiment has been to smile and simply say “good morning,” “good afternoon” or “good evening” in every one-on-one or one on-a-few circumstances where it seems appropriate. If there is an opportunity for a complement, such as complementing a gardner on the beauty of the flowers he is watering, I offer it. People I greet include colleagues, bus drivers, maintenance workers, store clerks, passers by when I am walking my bicycle; pretty much everyone. As I do this, I have been observing my own behavior and reactions. When an individual looks cheerful or is smiling themselves, the practice is easy. When they look grouchy or preoccupied I experience resistance and, Ricard’s metaphor not withstanding, I am sometimes unable to overcome it. But occasionally, when I overcome that resistance, I am rewarded by a grouchy face that becomes wreathed in a smiles.

This reminds me of something I began to understand years ago - actually I first experienced it when living and working in Iran as a consultant to the Shah’s government. To a significant degree, we human beings create the world around us in an image of the way we are. If we are mean, dour and sullen, people around us will be the same. If we are constantly enraged, our world is likely to be populated with many other angry people. If we are grasping, manipulative and dishonest, we will find a

lot of evidence that other humans are the same.

And we can also create a world that is filled with smiles.

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Anonymous L. Booth Sweeney said...

Thank you for this blog. You are a true systems thinker. The more smiles you offer, the more smiles you receive in return, the more smiles you are likely to offer, and of course, the more good will you spread.

With admiration,
Linda Booth Sweeney

9:15 AM  
Anonymous Gillian said...

Hi John, I agree with Linda, smiles are something that bring smiles. I completely agree with this observation and try to practice this too! Thanks for such a warm blog post! Cheers, Gillian

2:23 PM  
Blogger dormgrandpop said...

How nice to hear from two of my favorite and now they are at least occasional readers. This will motivate me to write more warm blogs. PS. To Gillian, I just subscribed to You learn something new every day, which should be a great way to keep up with your doings. Fondly. DG.

5:01 AM  

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