erick david

Is smiling worth the risk?

Whether we notice it or not, we take risks from the moment we introduce ourselves to someone else. But why would we do that?

“Hedgehog (self-portrait)” (2018)

A friend once told me he avoids telling his real name to others. He says he’s not willing to trust such information with just about anyone. “You can do whatever you want to someone once you know their full name”—he told me. While it may sound a bit paranoid, he was onto something. We can’t tell what anyone’s intentions are if we’re not familiar with their identities.

Our evolutionary relatives, chimpanzees, use smiling to tell others their intentions are harmless and they need not be intimidated by them. It’s, in a way, a sign of submission and familiarity; a request for compassion. That might be why we humans get a reassuring feeling when we get smiled at. We’re wired to build trust in those who seem inoffensive, those whose intentions look clear.

Once we start getting acquainted with someone, we start making parallels between their identity and ours. Finding out we grew up in the same town or have a similar taste in music helps us see them as trustworthy. Over time, we empathize with them, their stories and their ways.

Such relationships feed on the ability to be vulnerable. Although vulnerability can look a million different ways, for me, it’s about letting go of a little from yourself so you can have a little from others. Think about it, whether it’s your body, your security, or your time, you’re willingly risking part of you in order to bond with them.

Marina Abramović & Ulay, “Rest Energy” (1980) Marina Abramović & Ulay, “Rest Energy” (1980)

The deeper scars arise from the relationships between us and the ones whom we intentionally let into our lives; those who know us, those who love us, those who probably didn’t mean to hurt us.

It’s because of this that some think mutual harm is inherent to human intimacy. Driving us to be cautious when interacting with others, sparing with our vulnerability; even when a reciprocal connection may lie ahead. And although I’m a strong believer of that myself, I think there may be a workaround for it.

Think about the last time you hurt somebody you love. How did it happen? What were you trying to do? Have you forgiven yourself?

We’ve all been hurt and disappointed before—that’s a fact. Likewise, we’ve all been on the other side as well, being the ones who hurt and disappoint. And, while accepting our pain as real and valid is fundamental, it’s trusting ourselves and our intentions that makes a difference.

We could get hurt in the process but, in the end, we’re all looking for some warmth from others. We all share more commonalities than we may want to admit. Once we accept that none of us asked for this journey we call life and that we’re all just trying to make it alive, forgiving those who hurt us comes more naturally.

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