Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Smile Experiment

I'm conducting a scientific experiment. It's really not that scientific. I'm not clad in a white smock, there's no laboratory filled with bubbling beakers, and there's no control group. But I've got a hypothesis, and I'm testing it out. And I think you should join me.

There's been so much talk in these parts lately about the de-evolution of Redding. I've been part of the discussion, I've had my own run-ins with squatters and panhandlers in my neighborhood. I've got my own theories about why this is happening and what needs to be done on a regional statewide effort to try to combat it. And my theories might not fly with anyone else. They're just wild ideas.

Someday somebody's going to come up with a brilliant plan, it'll be mulled over by committees, proposed to a government entity or maybe the voters, and eventually (a few years down the road), this grand plan might start to make a difference.

But until then, what are we, the average citizens of Redding going to do? I'm talking about those of us who give a crap about our community. Those of us who aren't spending our days shooting up in local parks, breaking empty liquor bottles on sidewalks, panhandling on the edge of the grocery store parking lot or shuffling in pajama pants and slippers and a tank top up Market Street, pushing a baby stroller with no baby inside of it. Those of us who aren't spending our nights trying door handles to see if there's the teeniest thing of value to steal from someone else, or riding up and down the streets on bicycles looking to score or sell drugs, or find someone to threaten or injure just for fun. I'm talking about you and me.

Well, I'm definitely sure I'm talking about me, and I'm pretty sure I'm talking about you two. In fact, from here on out, I'm just assuming everyone who's taking the time to read this falls into the category of 'us' and 'we'. So what are we going to do?

 I've decided to smile. People tell me all the time that I'm a pretty smiley person, but I'm smiling even more. I'm making a conscious effort to be happy and engaging in a positive way with the people I come into contact with every day.

I'm engaging everybody. I'm engaging the people I see on the streets that I see on a daily basis. I'm talking to my neighbors. I want to make sure that we all know each other, and we all know what we look like with a smile on our faces. I don't want the good people of our city to give up on it because they're not feeling good about being out on the streets. I want us all to have more positive experiences every day. So I figured the best place to start is by being someone else's positive experience.

I'm having conversations with the people next to me in the checkout line at the grocery store, or people shopping next to me in department stores. I had a long conversation with Willy, who everyone mistakes for homeless. He may be formerly homeless, but not for several years. But he still hangs out on the street corner near my office a lot. I told him I liked his new haircut and beard trim, and he told me the crazy story of why he got it. If you want to know, you'll have to ask him yourself. We always end each conversation with a smile.

I've decided to look people in the eye, and acknowledge them. People that normally I would've pretty much gone out of my way to look the other way for, mainly because I didn't want to be given some lame excuse for why they were in desperate need of a few dollars.

Please don't get the idea that I'm going to start enabling panhandlers. That's not happening. But what I'm planning to do is be friendly and engaging in conversation, but be straight up that I have a policy against enabling, and that means I'm not handing out cash.

I just want to see what's going to happen.

Weirdly enough, just yesterday when I arrived to work in the morning, a guy was riding down the sidewalk toward me. An adult man, on a bike built for a ten year old. As I was getting the key out to unlock the door, I made eye contact with him and smiled. He smiled. He stopped his bike and said, "Beautiful day!"
I agreed.
"What's your name?" he said.
I told him.
"Mine's Chris. And that is a beautiful dress you're wearing, Val."
I thanked him, and then he just toddled off on his tiny little bike.

I thought to myself, maybe he's doing his own experiment. Seeing what happens if he starts smiling and engaging those weird people who work and pay taxes and have mortgages and utility bills and stupid stuff like like that.

We've got a long road ahead of us to make our city safer. But in the meantime, let's work together to make it friendlier, especially for each other. For you and me. So let's just keep smiling. Perhaps you'll do that with today's playlist streaming through your earbuds as you walk around the city, grinning ear to ear at people.

Click the play button below, or go directly to the Smile playlist at Grooveshark.
Smile by Valerie Ing-Miller on Grooveshark

  1. God Put A Smile Upon Your Face - Coldplay
  2. Smile - Uncle Cracker
  3. Sara Smile - Hall & Oates
  4. Smile Jamaica - Bob Marley & The Wailers
  5. Smile - The Vamps
  6. Wild In Your Smile - Dustin Lynch Like this guy? He's coming to the Cascade!
  7. Tied Together With A Smile -Taylor Swift
  8. Just To See You Smile - Tim McGraw
  9. With A Smile - Eraserheads
  10. Smile Like That - Esperanza Spalding
  11. Smile - Madeleine Peyroux Charlie Chaplin wrote this song. Seriously. No, really!!!
  12. I Smile - Kirk Franklin
  13. I Love Your Smile - Charlie Winston This guy may be my new favorite singer!
  14. U Smile - Justin Bieber Don't hate me cuz I played the Beeb.
  15. Smile - Avril Lavigne Avril Lavigne has a potty mouth. Makes up for the Beeb.
  16. Smile - Lily Allen
  17. Smile - Poole
  18. Smile - Portugal. The Man
  19. Smile - Weezer
  20. Smile - U2
  21. God Put A Smile Upon Your Face - Mark Ronson