Last week, I went to the doctor’s office with a funny cough and what I was pretty sure was a contagious lung infection (I was right, but I’m fine now). As I neared reception, I saw a sign and, good little rule-follower that I am, picked up and donned one of those sexy blue masks. (You know the ones I mean? They threatened to become a new fashion trend in the wake of SARS and H1N1.) I’m guessing most people don’t read the sign, because the doctor laughed and said it looked like I was going into surgery.
But I digress….
Little did I know at the time that putting on this mask would turn into my own little personal social experiment and blog post. As soon as I snapped it over my ears, I found myself immensely uncomfortable: Not because my glasses were fogging up, or because the mask quickly got warm and humid (ok, maybe those things a bit too too). Mainly, it was because I realized that I couldn’t communicate with my face. I couldn’t smile as I thanked the receptionist or nurse, or at the people entering the waiting room. I couldn’t smile at the doctor. I actually felt like I was being rude (however, spreading infectious bacteria around the room would have been somewhat less considerate methinks).
This left me wondering, when people don these masks regularly, as surgeons, dentists or nurses, do they feel they can adequately sympathize and communicate with their patients? How much compassion and comfort are Ebola victims missing out on when treated by nurses and doctors in hazmat suits and masks? Not that there’s any choice in the matter in West Africa right now, but it does make me think about how important the simple act of smiling can be in communicating with people on a daily basis.
(As an unrelated side-note, I think the doctors, nurses and other staff dealing with Ebola right now are some of the bravest heroes out there. They have my utmost respect and admiration.)
Now, back to our regularly scheduled program …
There are people who don’t smile. You’ve met them: The cashier who refuses to make eye contact. The receptionist who communicates in one-word sentences. The bus driver who grunts in your general direction. Not that these people are the norm … far from it! These are just the people who need help the most. Whether they are having a bad day, year, or life, I really believe that smiling at these people can make a difference.
So … and this seems blatantly obvious to me (and probably to you as well), but apparently not everyone:
Smile at people you pass on the street. Smile at old people. Smile at teenagers. Smile at the receptionist, the cashier and the bus driver. Smile at strangers and smile at friends. When someone smiles at you, smile back.
And of course, most importantly, always smile at children and babies. They’re learning from you.
What a simple way to change the world!
Doctors, nurses, dentists? Have you had this experience?