On trying to smile more
I wrote most of this blog a couple of weeks ago, before the suicide of Caroline Flack just after Valentine’s day shocked the UK. But re-reading my words in the light of the knowledge of her tragic death made me wonder why I’d hesitated to post it. I guess for the very same reasons that I need to; and for the same reasons that I need to put it into practice. Fear. But we could do with more kindness in our lives; both giving and receiving it. I’m introverted and too often afraid of trying to make a new connection, or reaching out to someone. But it’s rare that I regret the bravery of taking that first step (NOT unheard of; but rare).
Why do I think that consciously smiling more is something that we should all try to do more of? The power of a smile and the connection it brings is far more powerful than I realised for a long time. Sometimes that simple human connection can make the difference between someone concluding that the world doesn’t want them and that there is actually still some hope.
There have been times in my life where I’ve wondered whether to make a connection or not. I once questioned whether to invite an old friend to an event. I hadn’t seen her in a few years and we’d lost touch, but I thought it might be a good way to reconnect again. I doubted myself; I thought she might think I was weird for asking her. But in fact she was delighted to hear from me, she came along, and she ended up meeting a man there that she would go on to have a serious relationship with. I definitely didn’t see that one coming; I don’t think their paths would have intersected without meeting on that occasion. And none of it would have happened if I hadn’t acted on an instinct to connect.
I often feel hopeless when faced with the sheer number of homeless people in London (and closer to home too, but it’s really noticeable in the capital, where the increase is visible compared with even a decade ago – funnily enough, since the beginning of austerity measures). I’ll write more later on what I’m actively doing to try to help, but even when I don’t have cash to give, and there’s nothing I can practically do, I try to smile and make eye contact when someone sitting on the street talks to me. To treat them like the human beings they are, rather than someone to be avoided, an issue too big, too overwhelming, to face. You never know how much a small human connection like a smile can help someone mentally or emotionally, no matter how fleeting that feeling is.
On the face of it Caroline Flack seemed to be a world away from somebody like that. She was beautiful, famous, had a successful career and a flourishing social life of friends and dates. Yet at her lowest ebb she didn’t reach out to any of those colleagues, friends, or old flames. I can’t possibly speculate on why not. But I do know that she isn’t the first or last person to conclude that there was no longer anyone in this world who could bring her back from the brink. Feeling alone is a trigger for suicidal feelings and acts, and connection its antidote.
When I was in a dark phase of my life, a good friend gave me a copy of Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive. I have since recommended it to more than one person who I felt needed just such a list. But we also all need regular doses of actual human connection, in whatever form serves us the best. Smiles. Chats. Hugs. Real-life catch-ups.
As a species we are becoming so disconnected, in the truest sense. Liking someone’s social media post isn’t the same as meeting their eyes. Posting a positive emoji isn’t as adequate as saying ‘how have you been?’ in person, and actually hanging around for an answer. The longer I live, the more I realise how much power we all have, even in the smallest ways. Every act, every word, every gesture, has an impact on others. We don’t always get to see the result, but a result there will be.
I’m trying to really think, now, not only before I speak or act, but before I make a kneejerk choice not to. No matter how scary it is, it’s usually better to reach out.