So, I've decided that it is high time for me to start sharing my own Citizen Superhero adventures with you all. The problem is choosing where to begin. I learned very early in my life as a teacher that modeling for others and living my practice (not just teaching about it) are the most essential things I could implement on a daily basis. So, perhaps, the best place to start my first personal entry is with a smile.
When I moved to Washington DC in 2007 (while still making my daily commute to my teaching gig in Maryland), it was the first time I had lived in a new place, let alone a city (I grew up in NYC) in a while. I found the new environment to be somewhat disorienting- the faster pace, the noise, the people, and, of course, the politics. I felt prejudices start to bubble up to the surface for me- some I never had experienced before and others I thought I had dealt with long ago through living a more "conscious lifestyle" and teaching children about being open-minded and kind. Well, I quickly realized that I was becoming that person I had worked so hard to overcome. In a place where everything is much closer together and people are walking everywhere, instead of driving, these feelings of fear and intolerance were certainly palpable.
I decided I shouldn't drive myself nuts over it. After all, wasn't it enough that I was conscious and aware of how I was feeling and reacting to my surroundings?! It was good, perhaps, but not enough. I needed to act, to be an agent of change for myself. So, I thought I would start small. Each day, I would walk in my neighborhood as much as possible- walk to the store, walk to the coffee shop, walk to my car to drive to work (parking was pretty bad, so sometimes I had to park blocks away from my house), walk to a restaurant (anyway, you get the point)- and say hello to every person that I passed on the street. If they looked my way, I would also greet them with a big smile.
Simple, I know. Was it daring? Perhaps not in general (but it was hard in the beginning for me.) Was it worth it? Completely! In all honesty, friendly responses became suddenly abundant. This new act became a personal mission of mine. It was like I had opened up a friendly neighborhood floodgate of teeth that were just begging to be shown! The smiles, the hellos, the random conversations and complements that ensued were unlike anything I had ever experienced before. The pure strength in just acknowledging someone with kindness was overwhelming. I also discovered that a smile and "hello" have the potential to disarm negative behaviors or intentions that someone else may have. It seems to catch them off guard, as if they had been grappling with the very same prejudices that I had and somehow expected me to act in an entirely different way towards them. Interestingly enough, I found that the best times to use my "smile power" were the very moments when my own prejudices were the most present and I felt the least safe. To date, this is something I do wherever I go and the payoff is HUGE.
Disclaimer: Now, I am certainly not saying for someone to be reckless. Our gut reactions for feeling unsafe deserve proper acknowledgement and care. Certainly listen to yourself and trust your intuition but challenge your fear. Ask yourself why is it there in the first place? Prejudices, though at times deeply rooted for some, hold very little practical value. Remember, often people just need a reason, an invitation to be kind.
Be safe, be aware and don't forget to smile :)