|21 March 2005|
I wrote the previous post (tax in the UK) a couple of weeks back and was torn about just whether or not I should post it. I decided what the hell, as you saw, because it marked an interesting turning point for me in the last couple of weeks.
Last week, spring arrived. The biting north wind that threatens to freeze my eyelids shut on the 6am walk to the morning train vanished and was replaced by a clear blue sky, absolutely no wind at all, and an altogether quite mild ambient temperature. What a great start to a Monday morning I thought. As I sat on the train drifting in and out of working on the new book I watched as people boarded. At East Croydon the godless hoardes descended and I came to a quite startling realization. Most people in this country are miserable. As I looked around the train at people I saw scowls and frowns, mouths turned down at the edges. I heard guys complaining about their jobs and their bosses, and women complaining about other women, their husbands and life in general. Not one person was smiling. I guess it has something to do with the general principle in England anyway that if you see someone smiling for no obvious reason they are either a pervert of a psycho, and either way should be avoided.
A few years back at TechEd in Barcelona a few friends and I went on a quest. I had noticed the previous year that without exception Spanish people are miserable too, especially the women. You'd walk along the street enjoy the sun and the week off work and see a beautiful tall dark haired woman turn the corner with a face like Hurricane Charley. So, we decided that year that we'd try to get them to smile. Whenever we came face to face with a woman on the street, no matter how attractive, or not, we'd smile a warm, joyous smile and hopefully get one back in return. I remember one incident in particular. It was about 7pm and I was heading out with a colleague to find a restaurant to eat. As we rounded the corner of the busy street the hotel was on there in front were two of the most stunning Spanish ladies I've ever seen. Both were walking briskly towards us, dressed to kill, but frowning the world at large. As they drew closer I fixed my eyes on one of the girls faces until I caught hers. "Here's the moment", I thought, before smiling attempting to do the best Tom Cruise smile I possibly could right at her.
The second that followed seemed to slow matrix style as she caught sight of the grinning idiot approaching her. "Yes, she's going to smile back" I thought as her eyes seemed to widen. She turned her head quickly and said something to her friend who looked my way as well. "Oh my god - a double whammy - I rule".
As they drew level with us both girls turned towards my colleague and I. The first one spat on the ground, and the second one rattled off something unintelligable that ended in the word "Inglese". How the hell did she know we were English? What was that about? More to the point, what on earth is wrong with smiling at people?
Back in England on that first sunny Monday of spring a couple of weeks back I decided to adopt a twist on the TechEd Challenge. I would go a whole week without complaining about anything. I wouldn't complain when the train was late. I wouldn't moan when things didn't go my way at the office. I'd remain silent and smiling on the evening drive home when morons tailgated me, and jerks pulled out in front of me without warning. I would be a modern Pollyanna.
You know what? It worked. I had the best week of work I think I have ever had. People were helpful and courteous, I got tons of work done and more than one person commented on how "happy" I appeared to be. It's a great way to live, because in this world today there's just too much negativity. I mean, when you really think about it we have more curse words in the English language for expressing disdain, disgust and anger than we do for expressing joy, happiness and content. Even the everyday phrases we use on a daily basis are tainted with negativity.
"Take care dear" - why? Is someone going to stab me as soon as I step foot out the door? Are there hoardes of rampaging street gangs waiting to jump out at me around every corner? Why should I "take care"? Why not tell me "Have a great and carefree day".
How are you today?, "Not bad!". I hate that one. I say it all the time and I hate that I do. Why say "Not Bad!". I'm alive, I have a great family and a great future. I should be saying "I'm fantastic! In fact, I'm beyond fantastic - Holy crap it's AWESOME to be alive today". if I said that though I'd probably be committed - it's just not the done thing is it. Better to say "Not bad!", as if something terrible is bound to happen at some point, but so far, thank god, it hasn't.
Think about it next time you answer the question How are you today?. Perhaps we can start a movement to bring about an attitudinal shift in society as a whole - wouldn't that be awesome? You're right, it probably wouldn't - it would probably just be "Not bad!"