Thursday, October 23, 2008

Getting Surly About Surly People

As seen in the Gadsden Times
Sunday October 8, 2006

I don’t know if you can hear the scraping, but my soapbox is heavy, so I have to drag it along behind me to get it into place. My complaint is about surly people: ones who look surly and especially ones who act surly. I once read somewhere that if you smile, even if you don’t feel like smiling, your attitude will catch up with your face. I think many of the people I encounter have either not read this adage, or have read it and discarded it, because some of them look like their attitude wouldn’t recognize a smile if it smacked them in the mouth, (no pun intended.)

I took it upon myself to do some research into the subject by studying folks while out and about. The grocery store and Wal-Mart are two of my main spots for observation. I have grouped the grumpies into three categories: the unintentional frowners, the common downers, and the downright miserable scowlers.

Let’s take the first category. This is the mildest offense. These are people who probably don’t realize they look so unhappy. We’re all guilty of the unintentional frown occasionally, because it’s the look of concentration we get when we can’t find the Velveeta at Wal-Mart (another subject for another soapbox). The unintentional frown is usually temporary, disappearing after the resolution of the problem. The people in this group will usually snap out of it and return a smile if you beam at them persistently.

The second group is a little more offensive. The common downers are the people who, when asked how they are, say, “Fine,” and leave a dreadful silence while you wait fruitlessly for them to ask how you are. People in this group will also resort, when asked about themselves, to using my very favorite response, “Well, I’m here.” This is generally accompanied by a deep sigh. Their chief crime is not purposeful surliness, but rather a lack of enthusiasm. This bunch just doesn’t realize the effect they have with their dreariness. An example of this is the person at the drive-through window who says, “It’s a great day at (insert restaurant), could I take your order?” with about as much gusto as a child at Christmas, thanking the giver after opening socks. If you expect to have a smile returned by a member of this group, beware, the result is typically half-hearted. More often than not, it turns out as more of a smirk, with no joy reaching the eyes.

The third group is the worst! The scowlers actually spread discontent with their expressions. This is the cashier at the grocery store who won’t speak, but simply scans your items and slams them down on the other side. When forced, these group members may respond to a determined, “How are YOU?”, but they won’t be pleased about it. You’ll probably want to tear out your hair when you ask where you might find blank note cards and hear the answer of the scowling clerk who rolls her eyes and says, “This is not my department.” Further, my research shows that in face-to-face contact, 4 of 10 strangers met were miserable scowlers who wouldn‘t smile back no matter how hard I tried. That’s quite a statement.

Now, please let me qualify by saying that last Sunday, I listened and agreed with our pastor when he spoke about the evils of judging people. He said that we most often don’t know all the facts, and therefore are in no position to draw conclusions about how people act. I do realize that some people have valid reasons for being surly. Moreover, I’m not trying to pick on people who happen to work at Wal-Mart or the grocery store, many of whom are as cheerful (and helpful) as possible. Nor am I condemning truly shy individuals who have trouble meeting someone’s eyes, much less speaking to a wildly enthusiastic person.

We all feel surly from time to time. I’m sure we’ve all fallen into one or more of these categories sometime in our lives. It’s human. My point is that we should really be aware of the expressions on our face, because just like the flu, they’re contagious. So why not spread around a little happy. I know some miserable scowlers who could really use a smile today.

No comments: