A Smile is the Window into the Soul: The Power of a Positive Mental Attitude

by John Zajaros on September 29, 2009

As you may know by now, TuffGuy and I go for a walk every night at midnight. In fact, we will be heading out in just a few minutes for what promises to be an interesting excursion. It is Tuesday September 29, 2009 at 11:59pm Eastern and it is 50 degrees outside, raining, and the wind is kicking quite up a bit!

What does that have to do with tonight’s blog post? Nothing really, and everything! Nothing except for the fact that we seem to go out at all times, in all sorts of weather. And everything…because why would it be at all surprising that we run into all kinds of people on those walks?

Hence the picture!

And the real reason for this blog post!

The picture is the story, or one like it. The picture embedded in my brain, and perhaps my soul, repeatedly and on almost every walk for the past 3 months.

You see, we have made this walk a ritual, a part of our lives, TuffGuy and I, and it has been an education in people! All kinds of people.

Every walk is an education, except for maybe tonight’s walk. Because on a night like this, when the weather is so bad, or at least not great, there will be few if any people, smiling or not, young or old, hearty or frail. We will be alone in our thoughts.

Well, almost alone!

There is always the young woman in black. No matter what time we leave, regardless of the weather, she too is out walking. It seems we are in sync somehow. So there she is, night after night, afraid of others, perhaps more afraid of her self, she walks…or perhaps runs away…each night.

A guy nodded to me the other night from the doorway of a local bar down on Detroit Road, the young woman had just passed the bar and then TuffGuy and I, making a wide circle around all of us in order to avoid any sort of human contact or interaction. He said to me quietly, as if somehow I knew him and he was confiding in an old friend, that “she must be afraid of dogs.”

I chuckled, looked at him and said, “She is afraid of everything!”

He laughed, a drunk’s laugh, and I continued on my way, half sorry I said what I did…but only half.

For the life of me, I can’t imagine what would so profoundly affect a person so young and in such a manner as to provoke that sort of a repeated response.

But that takes me back to the picture again!

On Sunday, TuffGuy and I usually head out for a walk during the day (see YouTube Channel), in addition to our midnight walk, particularly if the weather is on the cool side and the sun is shining. This summer has been good for walks, not too hot and not too humid, so we have been able to go on a few Sunday excursions. This Sunday the weather was perfect and so we were heading to the Metroparks, a band of parks that surrounds metropolitan Cleveland called The Emerald Necklace, very nice and quite picturesque, when the full magnitude of my observations, what had been brewing in my head for months, finally gave rise to the thoughts you are now reading in this blog post.

It was a beautiful day and we passed quite a few people, some obviously on their way to or from some task, while others seemed to be out enjoying the day. The streets, so empty a few hours before (at 3am on another walk), were jammed with cars and people.

We passed an old Caucasian woman, hair still jet black and probably done weekly, not a hair out of place. She was seemingly first generation from Europe, probably here most of her life but never really letting loose of the “Old Country.” There is a large “ethnic” population in Lakewood, many own duplexes living in one half and renting out the other. They are nice people, a close-knit community, and generally friendly.

Well, TuffGuy was giving this woman a wide berth, I thought because he is people shy. TuffGuy had a very difficult time as a puppy due to an illness he contracted at a local puppy mill (read: pet store), he has never fully recovered and doesn’t really trust new people at first. A lesson is of sorts I am sure. But it was something else about this woman that TuffGuy sensed, something wrong with this lady, something very negative about her…and TuffGuy picked it up.

Well, this lady gave new meaning to the word dour!

Dour was the word that popped in my head. Of all the words, dour…but it fit!

* Marked by sternness or harshness; forbidding: a dour, self-sacrificing life.

* Silently ill-humored; gloomy: the proverbially dour New England Puritan.

* Sternly obstinate; unyielding: a dour determination.

The way she carried herself, her manner, even her response when I tried to say kind word…twice.

Dour was it!

More than any other emotion? I felt pity. How sad to be her age, somewhere in her 60s by my best guess, already old, and to be that sullen, that gloomy, that dour!

So, TuffGuy and I moved on, picked up the pace a bit to distance ourselves, and continued to smile, nod, and say hello whenever eye contact was made. I make a point of saying hello to everyone, everywhere. You never know when you might be the only person all day to say hello to someone. Never miss a chance to perhaps provide that personal touch in someone’s life, it can make a real difference!

The funny thing about eye contact?

In Manhattan, not making eye contact is a science, people really do have it down to a science. You see, people in Manhattan are constantly bombarded by people trying to hustle them…”hey buddy, wanna buy something”…that they never make eye contact for fear of being victimized.

Sounds like a social media commentary I did for another blog not long ago! Or was it for this one? Anyway….

There’s a marketing lesson there somewhere but we will save that for another time.

On the opposite side of the coin from the Manhattan ethos, the people of Belize, Central America. Walk or drive anywhere in Belize and people are always waving, greeting each other, smiling! You will spend the entire drive down the Southern Highway, from the capital city of Belize, Belize City, to its southern tip, south of Punta Gorda, waving and saying hello to everyone you meet along the way, in fact to everyone you pass. Truck loads of people traveling in the opposite direction will wave and shout greetings, it is an amazing experience,

What a happy and wonderful environment in which to live!

Well, somewhere in between you have Lakewood, Ohio, USA…a mix typical of many Midwestern small cities…neither closed in and down upon itself nor wide open and totally responsive.

The next person of note we came across was an African American woman somewhere in her mid-30s.

Jessie, she took the time to introduce herself, when all I got out of the “old lady” was a very, oh-so-subtle grunt, had on jeans and a white t-shirt, her hair was pulled back, and she was by herself; and, she was very beautiful. Striking to begin with, almost six feet tall and slender, when she smiled was gorgeous…and TuffGuy loved her! Her smile defined her, it immediately declared that she was someone worth knowing, someone it would be a pleasure to know. Of course she praised TuffGuy and we talked for a moment before moving on.

TuffGuy pranced away! It was funny because it was that noticeable…he had a new friend. So did I!

What a difference a quarter of a mile and who knows how much personal history between the two made! I went from thinking how sad one person was to how happy and joyous the other’s life must be…in the space of less than a few minutes and few more paces, my mood had shifted, as well.

Well, over the course of the afternoon and early evening the same scenario played out over and over again. I took notice of it more and more as the day went on. Interestingly, I kept coming back to the first two women, how different the two had been, and how different the effect on me was…not to mention the effect on TuffGuy!

Some people were closed in, apparently unhappy, seemingly defeated by the weight of their existence. Definitely not people you would want around on such a beautiful day, much less be around permanently.

Others? Well, some were obviously not as well off financially, but they were nonetheless happy, open and friendly…a pleasure to be around, if just for a moment.

The lesson here? I guess it is that how you carry yourself and how you relate to the world around you has an impact, a ripple effect throughout the world, often into areas you can’t possibly even be aware of. It is in a very real sense the Butterfly Effect in action.

Think about it for a moment if you will:

A lady smiles for a camera and somewhere in the world a man uses the picture, taken by another person, to bring home a point about the beauty inherent in a smile, the beauty we all have within us…if we will only let it out.

And the power of a single act, a smile or a frown, and how on another day at another time a person is writing about how that seemingly insignificant act can be have such a profound and lasting effect that another was willing to write about it and share his feelings on the subject with the rest of the world.

The Butterfly Effect!

We affect the environment around us, the people around us, in very significant ways each and every day, in ways we can’t possibly conceive of, because the full impact is beyond our reach, even beyond our understanding. Significantly, our actions often determine whether or not people choose to interact with us at all. Our kindness, our gratitude, our mental attitude (positive or negative), our empathy, our compassion, and a myriad of other qualities and characteristics all shape our environment, physical and social, and determine our success in life. So above all, be positive! Negativity is a disease, it is contagious, it is terminal, and it will kill your relationships with others and your chance for anything remotely resembling success in your personal and business lives.

John Zajaros
Skype: johnzajaros1

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