I saw you when you were trying to explain to the other train passenger why you couldn’t exchange seats with her. I don’t know exactly what you said, but I was enchanted by how friendly you seemed. You were smiling all throughout as you spoke to that woman who would do anything to keep her family of eight together in the train. I wish she didn’t try so hard and inconvenience other people.
Well the woman is beside the point. I actually just meant to appreciate your patience and friendly attitude with her. You are a person who at first glance, I would have immediately characterized as careless, unemployed and of low morals. You had an ear ring and a rough look about you. Your thin frame and dark looks made you seem like one of those men in Delhi who can’t stop staring at every woman in the vicinity. But you aren’t from Delhi, are you? You got on one of other stations of which the name I don’t recall.
Forgive for my ignorance. I hadn’t heard of four out of six places that the train stopped at. Well that changes things. I’ve been reminded over the past few days that people in smaller towns are much nicer and less selfish than people in cities. And they’re also so much more diverse. A nice looking old man could easily be the troublemaker of the town and a rough looking young man like you could easily be the nicest person in town. In the city, on the other hand, it’s much easier to place people in broad categories and be right about them. I’m not sure why. That might just be me knowing city folks better.
Getting back to the point, your smile changed my first impression of you in a split second. It lit up your face, and your patience in explaining why you couldn’t exchange seats was admirable. I couldn’t hear what you were saying, but you sounded very reasonable. From what little I could hear three rows away, the smoothness and clarity with which you spoke, packing as many words as you could in each second, increased my confidence in my second impression of you. I was sure that you were a nice guy. Don’t ask me why. I don’t know.
Hearing the benefits of smiling and the quotes that have become clichéd with time, I had become accustomed to ignoring them, and overtime, forgetting how much a smile can do. Unconsciously, I had stopped smiling as much as I used to, simply because it was more effort than keeping a straight face all the time. You reminded me that smiling does make a difference, one that matters. A smile can make somebodies day brighter, it can make a hard blow seem softer and it can make bad news better.
You also made me catch myself judging people before I talk to them. Here I am, proudly believing that I don’t judge people until I get to know them. Maybe I don’t set eyes on a person and say to myself “Oh, looks like a bitch”. But on seeing a person like you who turns out to have a personality seemingly different from what I would have expected, I realize that I do judge people simply by expecting them to be a certain way. I certainly won’t look down on you for being that way, but I’ll assume I know you already. When I expected you to be an immoral, unemployed, selfish man, I was judging you based on your looks. Even worse, I categorized you, assuming that all people who look a certain way have similar personalities and backgrounds. You challenged that and reminded me that the human race is diverse in its personalities, habits, behaviors and appearances, none of which are necessarily interconnected.
I am mostly done with my philosophical rambling, but I want to tell you one last thing. I wish I could erase the last time I saw you from my memory. It was a few minutes after I first saw you talking to the woman. You picked up your backpack and went past me towards the back of the train to find your new seat. I don’t know how that woman convinced you, or why you caved. Did you do it because you didn’t want to assert yourself and further argue with her? I know a train seat is something that doesn’t actually mean much, but seeing you give in to her relentless persuasion reminded me that there is some truth to the saying nice guys finish last. The people who are kind and sensitive to other people’s troubles get left behind when there are selfish people to take advantage of them. This is not about the train seat. Your new seat was probably just as comfortable as your original one. This is about nice people like you getting pushed around by people who don’t care if their demands cause inconvenience to others. And if that’s the truth, what’s the point of even trying to be nice when you can get things your way being selfish and pushy? If it wasn’t for my liberal arts education, I would have completely given up on trying being more thoughtful of other people. But seminar discussions, casual debates in the dining hall and college in general have taught me that being nice and assertive aren’t worlds apart. There is a middle ground where you don’t have to selfishly push others around and at the same not be a pushover. It’s unfortunate that few people find that middle ground. Most are on either end of the scale. But people are increasingly self-aware now and I have faith that more people like you will find that middle ground. Until then, keep smiling.
A distant admirer