I was out walking my dog yesterday, and since it was 4 pm on November 28 in Canada, it was getting dark already.
A young man was approaching me on the path. He had a dark hood over his head and long dark hair. His eyes were focused on the ground. He looked if not menacing then, at the very least, brooding.
As I often do in these situations - unless my spidey-sense says otherwise - I decided to disarm him. My weapon of choice? A word and a smile.
As my dog Maggie approached him, I said, with a huge smile, "It's OK. She's very friendly."
And the brooding dark man looked up, right into my eyes, broke into a huge smile, and said, "Oh thanks. It's OK though. I'm not afraid."
And in that instant, he went from a dark brooding man to the friendly teenager he actually was. We both continued on our way, each of us with a smile.
A smile and a word. They're powerful. They help us connect with each other. They acknowledge each other's presence and importance in the world. They show that we care, on a human level.
Try it next time you're at the grocery store with a grumpy cashier. Find something to say directly to her, whether it's about the loveliness of the raspberries this week, or how her hairstyle suits her so well or how she must go bonkers after hearing Christmas music 8 hours a day. And flash your big toothy grin. She'll be disarmed in a second because you acknowledged her as a fellow human being, one with feelings. She'll smile, and her entire demeanour will change.
It's disarmament made easy. Go ahead and try it. I dare you. [Smiles.]