Sunday, September 1, 2013

What's Missing? One Key Indicator to Heed...

I'm getting ready to swing out on my 9th round of travels since I started HEAR US Inc. in 2005 to give voice and visibility to homeless children and youth. I've heard and seen lots in these 168,000+ miles. Recently I figured out one thing missing, a very revealing absence.

Smiles. OK, call me crazy but I look at people as I pass by on my mostly backroads' travels.

Elderly man walking out to get his mail. Frowning. Woman on mower. Grimacing. Mail carrier. Numb. Woman driving convertible. Wrinkled brow and downward mouth. Truck driver. Tight-lipped with a cigarette hanging out. Woman pushing baby stroller. Lost. Teen scooting on a skateboard. Isolated. Bicycle rider. Another world.

Interesting but impractical would be to stop and ask my non-smilers how things are going. I'd imagine I'd get an earful. And I don't need any more downer-stories. Working in the field of homelessness, as I have for the past 30 years, gives me enough sadness for a lifetime.

Walking on streets of mega-cities and mini-towns, I've also tried the look-people-in-the-eye gauge to see who makes eye contact and who practices "custody of the eyes." Smaller towns, by far, have people more willing to make eye contact.

Same too with the old-fashioned habit of waving. As a kid, my family had small boats and we spent tons of time traversing canals around Ft. Lauderdale and Pompano Beach, FL. We always exchanged waves with other boaters. Not so much now from what I've seen.

One exception to the waving phenomenon, on the highway, was a stretch of road in southern Nebraska. It was the 1-finger wave, steering wheel hand, kind of a "hey" in a laid back farm country kind of way that gave me something to look forward to on those rare instances when my path crossed another's.

But I've made another fascinating observation: those with the least going for them are the ones who both smile more and respond to a smile. Families and youth without homes, as well as the men and women on the streets and in shelters, seem to recognize the one gift we all can share no matter a person's financial standing.

Yeah, I know. People don't have a lot to smile about. Well, on one hand, I agree things are really tough and our human spirit is being daily tested. But on the other hand, after spending 3 weeks in Tanzania this summer, I also saw a lot of smiles from people who, by our 1st world standard, have very little. Abject poverty was the norm. Grueling living conditions were widespread. Creature comforts as we know them rare.

Not sure what I can extrapolate from all this except to remember that we all have the ability to convey a smile. And the smile, especially when combined with a kind word or two, is a potent tool for creating a wisp of happiness, when woven together wisp-to-wisp will make a full-fledged happy moment...which causes more smiles.

Join me on my travels. Well, at least follow along on Facebook. I'll friend you unless you're an unrepentant ax murderer. And if our paths cross at an event (sign up for our free 1x a mo. newsletter to see where I'm headed), come give me a smile. I need all those friendly looks I can get.