I'm one of those people who smiles all of the time. Perpetually happy, people have called me. Annoyingly so, others have said.
I understand why people might think the latter. Especially here in New York City, where happiness is often seen as unrealistic, fake or even a sign of ignorance (to name only a few). My smiling at strangers sometimes wins one in return. Though more often than not, I'm met with glances of confusion or even irritation.
Things are so different in other places I've lived. In both San Diego and Nashville, down-turned eyes, furrowed brows and ignoring everyone around you are definitely not cool. In fact, they merit looks of deep concern and questions about sanity.
But as we all know, New York is not San Diego or Nashville. New York is a totally different world that is truly in a world of its own. Thank god! I love it here and can't imagine calling any other place home. Even if avoiding eye contact -- or trying to dominate other people with it -- seems to be a game some people think they have to play.
But that's just it. We don't have to play that game. We're New York City, damn it. We can do anything we want. Including having our vibrant, intense and incredible city also be a place filled with civility and kindness. I'm not talking about drippy, sappy "fakeness." I'm talking about genuine, authentic kindness.
We already have it in us. As one example of many, my husband recently watched a horse suddenly crumple to the ground on 57th Street. At least 40 other people immediately stopped and consulted with each other about what to do. Doctors dropped to their knees, kids called 911. People held each other, the carriage driver's hand and the horse's head.
This is surprising to no one who lives here; we New Yorkers have a tremendous amount of heart and compassion.
Yet we walk by people lying on the street without even a glance in their direction. We get on the subway and try our best to ignore each other. We set our faces solid as stone, getting irritated at anyone who interrupts our bee-line to wherever we're going. We sit next to each other in restaurants and don't even acknowledge each others' existence.
New York, we are the greatest city in the world for so many reasons: our ability to take on new challenges, to embrace change, to rise above and rise again. These are our hallmarks; they're in our blood.
We, like no other city, can create and recreate our future. We can, together as a team, decide how we want to experience our amazing city and each other.
So let's take on kindness. Goodness. Compassion. Not just in our hearts and minds, where no one can see or experience them, but in our words. In an encouraging look. In an unexpected conversation. In giving a quarter, a dime or at least a smile.
Let's do it, New York. We already live in the best city in the world. Now let's make it a place we're even more proud of calling home.
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