Here are a couple of related reflections I wrote down the other day:
The Power of a Smile
“Thank you for your smiles,” one sweet immigrant said as she passed by. In the chaos of the moment, other volunteers were rushing back and forth, too busy to personally engage the thousands of migrants that were bustling past them. Police were intentionally keeping stone faces, hoping to instill order by their intimidating presence. Then there was this large group of volunteers handing out backpacks. Their job could really be done by only two people… so what should the other eight do? Stand and smile, offer blessings and well wishes.
All the things accomplished that night were important. Food filled hungry stomachs. Hot tea kept them warm against the damp fog. Safety and order were maintained. Helpful items were given to accompany them on their journey. And I’m sure many of the people who shuffled by were grateful for what was being done, even if they didn’t express it.
So why would someone take the time to say, “thank you for your smiles?”
Most of us want to make a positive difference in others’ lives. This desire takes many forms… but sometimes, the most important thing we can do for someone is to treat them as a human being, to open ourselves to be vulnerable to them. A genuine smile (not that fake one we wear sometimes) can make a huge difference for others and within ourselves. If you offer a smile to someone who others usually just ignore – that person asking for a handout, that rude cashier at the store, that family who doesn’t fit in the neighborhood – you treat them as if they really are a human being, a child of God. We know it with our heads, but we sometimes forget to practice it with our hearts. By opening up our hearts to strangers, we give God’s love a chance to leak into their lives. There’s no telling how far that love might travel…
Angels and Demons
We’re all used to the idea of “demonizing” someone, but have you ever caught yourself “angelizing” someone? Considering them as perfect or nearly-perfect – either because we don’t know them well, or feel sorry for them? I’ve been guilty of this from time to time. It might not be as dangerous as demonizing someone, but angelizing causes lots of damage too… usually because it means we must demonize someone else at their expense. center.
For instance, I noticed when I first arrived that I had the tendency to angelize the refugees and immigrants. They’re facing a hard time, and many of them have overcome extraordinary challenges just to make it this far. Because of this, I found myself getting angry at the police when they spoke harshly to the refugees and immigrants, or when they tried to intimidate more than seemed necessary.
These refugees are amazing and courageous people… but just like us, they’re not perfect. I saw pushing and fighting. I heard stories of riots among groups that are hostile to one another because of race or religion. I heard that some men along the way, seeing that the families were getting preferential treatment, have secretly taken small children from other families in order to advance their position… only to abandon those children later. I saw anger, frustration and impatience that are understandable in these circumstances.
They are human beings, and the people helping them are human beings too. When we’re willing to treat them all as human beings – with the compassion and understanding that comes with being human – we avoid the mistake of making angels and demons where there are none.