Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Blessing of a Smile

Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." Luke 6:38

Sometimes, I can't help myself.  I stick my nose into other people's business.  I ran into Target to pick up an online order and return an item. There was no line at the customer service desk.  Jackpot!  As I was walking up, I caught the last bit of a conversation between the cashier who was at the customer service desk and the photo processing girl.  The cashier had gotten negative comments from customers about her attitude.   In an aggrieved tone she said to her co-worker, "I am not the one with the bad attitude.  The customers come in upset and angry.  They are the ones with a bad attitude."

Though it was none of my business, I had to join in her conversation.  I looked her in the eye and said, "I bet you mirror people and don't even realize it."  I could tell she was listening carefully.  "Everybody responds to body language and facial expressions but some people are like mirrors, they are more sensitive and do it more.  So if they see a smile they automatically smile in response.  I bet you are a mirror."  As soon as I finished speaking, I smiled at her in my happiest smile and she immediately smiled back.  She couldn't help herself. I almost laughed when I pointed out how she had smiled back at me without even thinking because I smiled at her.   As she processed my returned item and I wrapped up the transaction.  I smiled two more times and her beautiful smile flashed back at me.  Each time I pointed it out and reminded her, that she had to be intentional about smiling at customers and they would smile back.   Though customers were coming to the customer service counter grumpy and upset she could break through their feelings with a smile.

Here's a quote from a Psychology Today article about the power of smiling "There is a lot of evidence of body language mirroring. We automatically copy the facial expressions of others. We reciprocate and in social groups it can be contagious. People respond to, and evaluate, those who smile differently and more positively than those who do not. “Laugh, and the world laughs with you; cry and you cry alone.”  

This sets up a virtuous cycle for the smiler and a viscous cycle for the non-smiler. Thus in sales, hospitality and negotiation situations the person who first smiles increases the possibility of the other person(s) smiling which increased trust and liking and therefore “co-operation” and helpfulness. Smiling helps bond people together.

There is also physiological evidence that smiling has specific biological consequence. This is even truer of laughter and is evidence of a feedback loop. Smiling has hormonal and physiological consequences which make us feel better and want to smile more. Smiling self medicates and heals."
This psychological concept is a concrete example of the cycle of blessings and curses. The author of the Psychology Today article even used the phrase "virtuous cycle."   Last week's blog was about the Biblical concept of the curse. I explained that the meaning of the word "curse" is summed up as devaluing, demeaning and disdaining something. In contrast a "blessing" sees and ascribes value to something or someone. When God blessed creation and said that "It was good," He was acknowledging the intrinsic value and worth in all of creation.  My cashier was dealing a bunch of grumpy people who weren't feeling blessed or valuable when they headed up to the customer service desk.  They felt devalued because their time was being wasted, frustrated they had bought the wrong item and they were concerned they wouldn't get something of value, their money back.  My cashier instinctively mirrored their body language and facial expression because that is what people instinctively do.

To break the cycle of feeling devalued and demeaned, all she had to do was to help them feel valued. Here's what Jesus told his followers, "Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."  Smiling, listening to them and treating them with respect would  naturally result smiles and respect.

This is easier said than done. It is hard to break an intrinsic human cycle.  When people are mean to us, human nature is to escalate things and respond in kind.  A bad morning gets worse, frustration at work spills over into a fight at home, feeling devalued and demeaned by a friend leads to overeating or drinking in excess. This is human nature but it isn't our destiny. If we find ourselves in a pattern where people treat us poorly and we self-sabotage, it is valuable to ask ourselves, "Am I reacting to a lie that I am not valuable? Am I feeling less than? Am I feeling demeaned?"  To break this cycle, we have to remind ourselves that we are valuable, and then be intentional about what we give to others and how we respond to insults.

This week, practice proactively giving smiles.  You will bless the people you smile at and set them up for further blessings since they will feel valued. Start a virtuous cycle.  Let me know how it goes.

If you find yourself in a negative thought pattern or behavior, look back over the past couple of days to see if you felt devalued or demeaned.   Take that unhealthy thought captive and replace it with a blessing. You are valuable, loved, beautiful, and you have every spiritual gift in Christ to bless others.

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