A genuine smile from deep down inside is an outward expression of happiness from within. You want a good focus and balance in life? Give everyone you know a good hearty genuine smile.
With only minutes to spare, I ran to my flight. I had a speaking engagement in Florida and could not miss this connection. When I approached my gate, I was able to slow my stride and in doing that, I began noticing strange expressions on people’s faces. A young couple passed and I heard one say, “Wow, did you see that guy? He looked terrible!” Another man passed grimacing. As I turned into the waiting area, I heard someone whisper, “I’m glad my kids aren’t here. He would have given them nightmares!”
I didn’t understand what the commotion was about until I looked up. To my horror, I saw a man so severely burned, I nearly gasped out loud. He had no hair on his head or eyebrows. His ears had been melted off, revealing only holes. You could barely distinguish his eyes. His nose was an open cavity. He stretched his lower lip over the area his upper lip would have covered, if he had had one. Because his skin was a patchwork of stretched skin grafts, you couldn’t tell whether he was 80 or 18. His left arm stopped at his elbow and his right arm had four little digits that were actually toe grafts. Honestly, he looked like a monster, and I was hardly prepared.
Though his looks were shocking, it was the reaction of the crowd that shocked me more. My heart broke for this man. He stood isolated and completely alone against the wall. More than 100 people stood 20 feet away, unsuccessfully trying to hide their stares. I was there for only a second when the attendant started the boarding process, but I can remember sincerely praying, “God, if I had only been here a few minutes earlier, I could have talked to the man or at least stood beside him.” However, the opportunity was lost as the man joined the boarding line and soon after made his way to the plane.
Watch out what you pray for, because you might just get it! When it was my turn to enter the plane, I found my seat, and to my surprise, the man was sitting beside me. I was not given a few minutes to stand beside him but two hours to sit and hear his story. His name was Paul, and he was 36 years old. At the age of two, he was in a car accident that burned more than 90 percent of his body. It was a miracle that he even survived. During our time together, we laughed and had one of the deepest, heartfelt conversations I had ever had with anyone in my life. As we began our descent, I mentioned I was going to speak at a convention of about 8,000 students. I asked him if he could give me one piece of wisdom that he wished people knew or would do. In almost a whisper, Paul said to me, “Every day of my life I hear that I am a monster. Every time I look in the mirror I see the image that horrifies children. But what I’ve discovered is, if you look past our ‘earth suits,’ we’re all the same. Everyone wants the very thing I crave so badly. I want people to look at me . . . not what they see. Look me in the eye and smile at me. If people only knew how powerful a simple smile was . . . I wish people could look each other in the eye and see each other for who they really are.”
Never underestimate the power of a heartfelt smile. Give every living soul you meet the best smile you’ve ever smiled in your life. Smile to strangers, coworkers, your spouse, and your children. Smile while you’re on the phone, because it shines through in your voice. Smile and see how much better you feel and look. Watch how quickly relationships are built or mended and barriers are broken. I have instantly bonded with people because of their contagious smiles. Yes, you will find those who absolutely refuse to smile, but smile at them anyway. You never know what people are going through.
Smiling makes you more approachable, accepted, and real! Our world has gone through the industrial age and technological age and is now in the information age. Though we have an instant and infinite amount of information at our fingertips, we seem to be losing the art of starting, building, and maintaining relationships. Remember, the essence of any successful business, organization, church, or family is successful relationships. One of the simplest ways to start that all-too-important relationship is through a simple, genuine smile! Smiling is therefore a key component of a leader’s focus.
Excerpt from "A Leader's FOCUS" © 2012 Thomas Dismukes