Permission to smile

When I was little and out for a walk with my mum, she would greet everyone we met with a cheerful “Hello!”, accompanied with a bright smile. We would walk on for several metres and then she'd turn to me and say, “You never know when you might be the only person to speak to someone all day”. Quite soon I could say it before she did.

At first I remember her being a little defensive, as though I might be embarrassed. Then it became a narrative we shared with a smile. A knowing smile. What we knew was that this didn't come naturally to her. A quiet, softly spoken lady with a troop of children who must have sapped most of her energy. But there was still enough for a “hello” and a smile. I wasn't embarrassed. Just struck by this conscious decision to bring a tiny ray of sunshine into the life of someone who might appreciate it. I do remember thinking that it was something for the old people. I identified the elderly as a group who might particularly need to see friendliness from a stranger.

I know a little more now. It isn't just the elderly who need a smile and a hello. It's the young mum who is out for a desperate walk, whose little ones are delightful and precious, but with whom conversation is limited and whose partner won't be home for hours and hours, or perhaps is navigating family life independently. It's the guy in the street who's boss yelled at him all morning and hasn't heard a friendly word from anyone. It's the school teacher who has been talking all day to noisy kids, or the nurse who asked everyone else how they are, but was never asked the same back.

Loneliness is turning up as a big concern in the media a lot at the moment, and it's something we need to be thinking about. Our society has become one permeated with suspicion and one where keeping your head down and eyes on your phone can see like the normal way to interact with the world. But these are active choices and we can make different ones.

Join the Campaign

There's a campaign going on across Birmingham, UK at the moment called Permission to Smile which is about this small, tiny thing we can all do to make our world a little friendlier, just a bit smilier. Bring in just a little more sunshine. There are other, bigger things to get involved in, but here's something to begin with today. And if the other person is wearing Lucy and Yaks, then I think there's permission for a high five too!

My mum had a poem up on their toilet wall. I think I learned it by heart during my time in there! It started with “a smile costs nothing, but gives much”. I don't think that's quite true. A smile can cost a lot. It can be a big effort. It isn't always an easy thing. But it can make a difference and it's worth it.
Smiling wearing our Bobbie Tee
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