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LETTER: It starts with a smile

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For the new year, we all can resolve to be extra kind, including to strangers.

Especially in present-day social climates of heated emotions and violent intolerance, it may not be enough to just not think/act hateful; we also need to display kindness, perhaps through a sincere smile.

Due to seemingly increasing incidence and intensity of hate-motivated crimes in society, even just offering a sincere smile can be a healthy and powerful, yet relatively effortless, potential response by caring individuals to acts of hate targeted at other identifiable-group members of society.

However sanctimonious it may sound, I decided to do this as my own rebellious response to the (as anticipated) acts of racial/religious intolerance that soon followed Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential election victory. Anti-Trump demonstrators’ catchy slogan was “Love Trumps Hate.” Not much for the non-family ‘love’ part, I would do the next best thing by offering a sincere smile. But when offering a smile, one should do so promptly. In my first attempt, with a passing woman wearing a Muslim head scarf, I hesitated long enough (likely for fear of possibly offending her modesty) for her to catch my blank stare and quickly look away.

Bitterly ironic, the opposite of my intended friendly gesture was therefor likely perceived by her. I made sure to not repeat the mistake, however, as I passed a middle-aged Black woman along the sidewalk. To me, she had a lined expression of one who’d endured a hard life. I gave her a smile, and her seemingly tired face lit up with her own smile, as though mine was the last thing she’d expected to receive.

We always greet one another, since then, and converse when awaiting the bus.

Frank Sterle, Jr.

White Rock