This is a guest post by Richard at cheewit.net. At his blog, you’ll find a series of articles which cover the relationship between better thinking and better living.
There are several infectious afflictions in this world that you would want to avoid at every opportunity. Ebola, the blood spurting, eyeball rotating, puss oozing monster of an infection probably comes in at number one, along with a host of other gruesome and debilitating illnesses limping in close behind. It is part of human nature to steer clear of infectious things, but there is one infectious affliction that you should positively hunt down, place yourself fully in front of, and consciously induce into every facet of your being. It is also the most infectious of all: the smile.
Ancient Scandinavian Smilers
The word smile in the English language seems to be derived from one of the plethora of Scandinavian languages which subdued the native languages of Britain in generations past, which is strange considering that Vikings are rarely depicted as smiling cherubically from under their horned helmets. Anyhow, back to the point at hand, smiling was with us long before the Vikings, of course, and is present in every culture and used by every peoples of this world.
A smile is also one of the first expressions to grace the face of a baby – its first real sign of meaningful communication – which signals the smile’s crucial and timeless role in affecting human relationships. Ask any parent if they remember their child’s first smile, and they’ll happily regale you the details; and what will they be doing as they recount this episode? Smiling. And what will your reaction be? Smiling, too! The fact is that smiling is the one of the most powerful communicative tools in the human arsenal, and it can, as with any excellent tool, be put to a huge number of uses.
The Land of Smiles
People smile for many different reasons, not just out of happiness. Nowhere is this more true than in Thailand: The Land Of Smiles, where the smile is used a cohesive social device to great effect. One research duo has noted up to 12 different types of Thai smile (Holmes & Tangtontavy: Working With The Thais), all of which mean different things from happiness to anger, from admiration to hatred, from calmness to agitation, to name only a few of the 12 different varieties they discuss!
Daniel McNeill, author of The Face: A Natural History, has also discussed the variety of meanings which are embedded in the smile. More interestingly, perhaps, he has identified a curious and surprising claim that: “Though courtroom judges are equally likely to find smilers and non-smilers guilty, they give smilers lighter penalties, a phenomenon called the ‘smile-leniency effect.‘” Although I’m not yet willing to accept this ‘point’ on face value, I would not be at all surprised if it is indeed true. The smile is an excellent way to improve the quality of your life, and of those around you; best of all, it’s free, always available and so easy to do!
I am a teacher. As such, I have to deal with a range of students with a range of different personalities and abilities. Some students take constructive criticism very well, whiles others become very emotional and personal about the issue at hand, which renders meaningful and rational communication quite difficult. Other students become immediately very defensive about any errors that they make and are very sensitive to any kind of criticism. So, how best to deal with these types of students?
Firstly, very defensive students usually lack a good EQ (Emotional Quotient) and have a large ego, and are therefore easily annoyed or enraged. Overly-sensitive students can become instantly nervous and worried when a teacher assumes a blatantly authoritative stance; even though the teacher may not have even said anything yet, and certainly doesn’t have any desire to make the student feel uncomfortable or scared, their body language can disguise this, resulting in a student who feels very unstable.
Although I used students as a vehicle to explain my point, they can be taken as representing two specific types of people with whom we all come into contact: the easily-angered/unreasonable/volatile, and the overly-sensitive/worrisome. Of course, there are a multitude of other personality types that we haven’t mentioned, but they generally fall into the ‘middle’ categories, which are not particularly extreme, and tend to be more rational, and therefore, tend to be able to navigate personal interactions with more skill.
The main conclusion that can be drawn from these examples is that body language is in many ways a more immediate, comprehensive and complex form of communication than the spoken word – more often than not it is an unconscious action. And with this in mind, we can revisit the above situations and ask ourselves: how could these situations be avoided in future? The answer, of course, is: by consciously smiling!
Conscious Thai Smilers
For anyone that has ever visited Thailand, or spent any extended length of time here, they will have experienced the warmth and regularity of the Thai smile. It comes in all shapes and sizes, and for a variety of reasons. However, the main reason that Thais smile so much is that they will do almost anything to avoid confrontation and keep things calm and amiable, at least on the surface – consideration for others’ feelings, as well as not losing face by losing control, are at the epicenter of Thai social behavior.
Even if a Thai person is seething with anger, it is probable that you will not know about it, as all you will see is a broad smile and a calm demeanor. It works; rarely, if ever, will you see Thai people raising their voices and arguing openly. And that, I reckon, is part of the reason that so many foreigners, myself included, love to spend time in The Land Of Smiles – who wouldn’t?
It could be considered advantageous to everyone if we each make a conscious decision to smile sometimes, and not just rely on the unconscious action. So, next time you feel that you might be entering into an argument, or having a non-desired, negative effect on someone – perhaps an employee at work, perhaps your own child, or perhaps your partner – consciously afflict them with a genuine, warm smile, and watch the negative energy disappear into thin air!
Don’t forget to read more of Richard’s articles at cheewit.net!