Home > Leadership and Management > When smiles navigate pains

When smiles navigate pains

By G. Balasubramanian

“If you’re not using your smile, you’re like a man with a million dollars in the bank and no check book.” says Les Giblin But, if you must pack it with pain, it becomes a check with an invalid Payee.

Christopher walked out of the chamber of his boss. He stepped into the small room where Reva, secretary to his boss was seated. He placed his glasses on her table and smoothly wiped the lens which were mildly wet. Reva watched him silently. He put on the glasses again and looked at her; he offered her a smile. Reva responded to it with a slightly fragile smile; It showed that she was empathetic to the situation. This scenario was not new to Reva. There have been several occasions when people have offered similar smiles to her. Oftentimes the smiles were soaked in more intense pain. Handling her boss Mr. Ruth was not easy. He was indeed ruthless many times with people while putting his views, opinions and feedback articulated in penetrating and piercing words, least realizing how others may take it, how it could offend or hurt them. He failed to understand that words carry energy and can make or break people. As such, after doing so he used to smile at them. And his smile did convey that he was the boss. One could easily recall the famous words of William Shakespeare in Hamlet “That one may smile, and smile and be a villain.”

Though smiles may carry different caricatures and convey different emotions at different places, and at different times, they are sometimes difficult to be understood for their inner meaning. Portraits of smiles have been used to brand people. The smiles that carry a load of pain inside are the most gruesome. I have seen many of them and they carry different genres of pain. The art and science of carrying the pain in smiles and navigating them through a stream of smiles is indeed a Herculean task. I have done it and I am sure most of us have at some point of time. To store the pain inside the smile, to compress their content, to dress them with a fashion robe, to allow them to rest calmly within their operational territory, is really challenging. But often most of us are required to do so. And when others see us smiling, they often take us on our face value. However, there are a few who can read the pain woven in the fabric of the smile using their microscopic eyes and tell you silently “Hey I know it.” Saying so, they walk away wisely. Says Thomas Paine “I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress and grow brave by reflection.”

Decades ago, when I met Shruti in her office, she sported a smile which was quite disturbing to me. I raised a conversation with her “How are you?” “Good, moving on” she made a casual statement. “How is the family?” I never knew I touched on a point she didn’t like. “Can we talk something else?” she said with all humility. I looked at her face. Her eyes were still and communicative. I recalled the beautiful words of William E Channing “Every man is a volume, if you could read him” I was reading her through her eyes and smile.

“Sorry. I was curt. But I have tons of pain which I cannot unload to anyone. You may not have a right bucket to hold them.” Her words were in low pitch. I was touched. She offered a smile, and I acknowledged by lowering my head. “You know, if you travel into the ocean of my tears, you will find huge rocks and boulders. You can’t navigate. The story is very complicated and just leave it at that.” I apologized to her, understanding how a small question might have disturbed her emotional balance. She was going through the pain, but she did not convert that into a suffering. The smiles say it all.

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” says Haruki Murakami. True, many of us carry the pain in some nook and corner of the heart but are unwilling to let it take over us leading to a suffering. “It is important that we should not let the pain to numb our emotions and the heart as they could do a great damage”. Says J.K Rowling” Numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you finally feel it.”

Neurosciences throw light on the ability of the pain centre and the pleasure centre in our brains to become addictive to our thoughts, emotions, experiences and become victims of habits. They tend to hold us to a need for a perennial sense of satisfaction and gratification.” Says C.S. Lewis “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Not all pains have a long shelf-life. Some are like passing clouds. And others want to hang on with us because they know we enjoy holding them closer. They tend to peep out of their cabins time and again to ask us “Are you OK? Do you need our help to seek sympathy?

“It pains me” says Bhatia very often. The fact that people with inferior competencies get acknowledged and elevated just because they can please the management, makes him irritated. His level of frustration often shoots up. He asks the question ‘what for’ whenever he reflects on his performance. Yet he offers a free and eloquent smile to others. He knows that they don’t understand it.

In a professional environment there are many ‘pain carriers’ who continue to work just because the loss of job would be suicidal to them as they maintain a family. They chew their pain, swallow them sometimes and digest them without being noticed. There are people who consume insults with a smile, insinuations with a smile and receive the comments and feedbacks in bad taste with a smile. They dump all these in different pockets of the overcoat woven with Sherwood wool smile. I can authentically represent them as I have gone through such times in my professional front.

Our celluloid industries have often shown domestic scenes where the young lady in the house faces a lot of turmoil and pain without any reaction on her face. The smile she sports is, so poverty stricken that it is hungry for a bit of love from some corner of their home. People like her carry on their days and nights braving the environment just painting the smile on their frozen faces. Many working women have great abilities to sport smiles which can provoke any knowledgeable poet to script a heart throbbing lyric. Or ask a young man searching for a job for a few years “what are you doing?’ he will explain the agony with a beaming smile!

Ms. Smith who was fighting her terminal cancer sported a smile always and impressed others to believe that she was far away from pain. Her ability to create a ‘make believe’ situation deserved an Oscar.

The losing captain of a national sports team sports a smile while shaking hands with the winners. The pain of a loss at the end point is something one would carry for life.

And when I found a lady known for her smiles screaming, I asked her ‘why so?’. Her reply was “hey I need to steam out. After all, a pressure cooker needs a safety valve.” I smiled and walked away. Her smile has probably a ‘house full’ board outside it.

Smile is possibly a mild pain killer to soften the inflicted suffering. But it doesn’t help always. “If the world’s a veil of tears, smile till rainbows span it” says Lucy Larcom

Next time when you pack your smiles with a bit of pain, please do remember that you are not alone!