I was in Walmart yesterday walking towards the computers and a sales associate said to me, “Smile!” I turned around and gave him a long, astonished look. He proceeded to help a customer out as I fumed, and waited. When he was finished, I approached him, maintaining eye contact. He smiled and said, “Can I help you with something?”
“No,” I respectfully said. “I just wanted to give you some advice.” I paused. “Don’t ever tell someone how to feel or look.” “You looked sad,” he said. “I was trying to cheer you up.” “It’s very annoying,” I said. I lingered a while maintaining eye contact to allow the information to settle in, then left.
Arbitrary strangers my whole life have been telling me to smile. And this is the first time I have ever said anything. I guess because this is the first time in my life where I truly support my emotions. The shame involved with housing the “wrong emotion” has disappeared, because I’ve realized there is no such thing as a correct or an incorrect emotion.
As children we’re often told to change our behavior, or our emotions. “Suck it up, stop crying, lower your voice,” and so forth. The result can be that we allow others, later in life, to continue to tell us how we should feel and appear.
I could have added in my schpeel to the sales associate: What if my mother had just died in a car accident? What if my brother had just been murdered? What if the love of my life had just been sentenced to prison for twenty years? You, an unasked for do-gooder, come around and casually tell me to smile, as if any circumstance that would warrant sadness is absolutely inconceivable or as if I should be able to suck my sadness up and stuff my present reality down so creeps like you will approve of my facial expression as I’m browsing laptops.
The world doesn’t need ignorant fucks trying to cheer it up. It needs empathy, respect, and sensitivity.
The next person who tells me to smile is going to get a similar, or more intense, schpeel.
Have you ever been told to smile? How has it made you feel? What would you like to tell that person? Let’s launch a campaign! The “Mind Your Own Facial Expression” war?
Oh, and by the way, sales associate, I wasn’t sad.