As smoke and dust and wailing seems to rise physically from the newspaper stand, spreading that empty feeling of sorrow and impotence, it would surely be a human and understandable reaction to look for some lightness, a flutter of a hint of hope at the bottom of the jar, a reason to be cheerful, a way to remember to feel glad to be alive. And not fleeing from Gaza, Syria, Iraq, Kurdistan, the Ukraine…….
You’d think a smile would do it.
So wielding an apparently pessimistic mallet of such proportions that we fear for the wholesale smashing of all things good, I would like to talk about not smiling. Yep. Not smiling.
I’ve been writing up a client session that was very, very, hard in which – I still think – the truth eluded us. I just did not do a good enough job.
It was the smiling.
Could the arrangement of between 20 and 50 facial muscles have brought failure? Well yes, and no. It might depend on which arrangement. The smile repertoire is pretty wide – literally. I’ve been collecting smile thought-disguisers over the years and have quite a list now. They’re surprisingly different. Here are just a few:
- ‘I can’t believe you are telling that joke again to your team. I am a good person. Smile.’
- ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about. Perhaps you’re an actual weirdo. Smile.’
- ‘I’m so glad I’ m not you. Head on one side. Smile.’
- ‘No one here must know that I slept with her / him last night. Smile.’
- ‘Thank god my child hasn’t screwed up like yours. Smile.’
- ‘Everyone likes me. You will like me. Smile.’
But the one that floored me this week was….
‘I am my role. My heart is breaking. I am a professional without weakness. I handle everything. Everything. I handle everything with a smile. Smile.‘
And golly was it a smile. It was the smiliest smile that ever there was, smilier even than a cat from Cheshire. It endured and stayed fixed regardless of what was being discussed. It’s hard to describe how difficult this made conversation, how hard to find meaning. Luckily someone incredibly clever has described it – a proper philosopher.
Jean Paul Sartre called this ‘mauvaise foi’, or ‘bad faith’. He describes in ‘Being and Nothingness’ how we adopt social roles and often value systems, that are just not true to our real natures. We are trying to be our best idea of what that role is – rather than ourselves. What interests Sartre is that this is all about self-deception, a sort of playacting that ends up betraying our true selves. It’s a sort of abuse of our human power to make our own choices.
I think what interests me is how exhausting it is, and how effectively it gets in the way of any growth or progress.
The news is too sad, and it’s far too hot to spend any unnecessary energy on pretending.
It’s you, not a social or professional role that matters.
If you don’t feel like smiling, don’t.
Penny works with senior people who want change.
Her approach is unconventional, and fun.
By challenging perceptions, creatively re-framing situations, and reclaiming their energy and bravery, her clients create new options and successes for themselves and their businesses.
If you’re feeling stuck and want to get moving again, contact Penny: firstname.lastname@example.org