Don't Forget to Smile

fourth year dhanur sapolia

photo by emily haynie

photo by emily haynie

I’ve always found it hard to share things. Not really physical things, although I am an only child so I guess I’ve never really tried it. I’m mostly talking about my ideas. Any time there is a class discussion, I am usually the last one to speak up. This is more likely because I didn't do the assigned reading, but let’s just pretend I am a responsible student for this sake of this article.

Jokes aside, the more I think about it, the reason I don’t usually like to share my ideas is because I don’t really like to argue. To me, when two people get in an argument, they open their mouths and close their ears. It turns into a battle to win rather than a conversation to resolve anything. Being an introvert, I would much rather listen to someone else who has a completely different perspective than me, and ask them questions about why they believe what they do. It doesn’t necessarily have to mean I agree with them, it just means I have to be confident enough in my own ideas to entertain their view of the world. You don’t really see people listening  in the mainstream these days. Debating (which I do have huge respect for) has been sensationalized, and why wouldn’t it be so? A heated debate pulls views and engagements. In times where our ideas can alienate us from the “opposition,” here’s a story I think can help bridge that gap.

I switched schools two months into 6th grade and being the shy kid I was, it was nearly impossible for me to make new friends at first. I thought the kids in my new school were so different than I was. Anytime I tried to have a conversation with them, or tried expressing my ideas, I was received with some forced laughs, slight nods, and worst of all: silence. I felt like a comedian that was bombing every one of his jokes. One Saturday about a month into switching schools, I skyped my grandma. She’s the sweetest, smallest and wisest Indian woman on the planet. I told her about my problems being the new kid in school and she listened intently, smiling a little bit whenever I paused to take a breath and nodding everytime I started speaking again.

When I was done ranting, she asked me a very strange question. “Do people smile in America?” I got really confused and slowly answered “yes.” Then she said “Well that’s good because anyone can understand a smile. It doesn’t matter what they speak or think. The next time you’re trying to talk to someone, show them what you feel before telling them what you think.”

Now that advice didn’t make me the most popular kid in school, but it did help me make some really good friends that I shared some amazingly awkward middle school memories with. My grandma had a point I think. She understood that ideas are powerful, but sometimes they can make it hard to make connections. She showed made me something that I had never realized before, that emotions are universal and that they are inherently human, so connect through them before you connect through thoughts.