By Gisele Ingabire
When I was younger, I made up a game that I always loved to play. I called it “The Smiling Game.” I was only 5 years old at the time, so the rules were very simple: get someone to smile without saying a word. I started playing this game because I really liked seeing people happy and I felt a sense of accomplishment knowing I was the one who helped generate their smile. It sort of felt like a superpower. At 5 years old, there was only so much I could do. I couldn’t drive. I couldn’t walk down the street by myself. I couldn’t even reach the kitchen sink without a step stool. But despite all the things I couldn’t do, being able to make people smile helped remind me of all the things I could do. So every morning, I would wake up and set a goal for how many people I wanted to share a smile with.
I continued playing this game for a few years until I learned about this neat little thing called “body language.” You probably already know about this magical concept, but I got to learn it from my older sister. She explained that body language could give you the ability to understand what a person is thinking or feeling without them having to say a word. As a shy kid who refrained from speaking as much as humanly possible, I found this new concept very intriguing. One day, I got curious what my body language said about me, so I asked my older sister. She said, “I can always tell when you’re in a conversation you don’t want to be in. You’re never fully facing the person. You’re sort of sideways, as if you’re ready to jump ship as soon as a moment in the conversation presents itself. And would it kill you to at least pretend to smile?” That last part stung a little cause I thought after all my rounds of “The Smiling Game,” I would have been a pro at smiling. This conversation made me realize that body language is not just limited to examining other people, but examining yourself as well.
On top of being transformational in a personal sense, body language allowed me to add a bit more zest to my smiling game. Instead of setting an arbitrary number that I wanted to reach, I tried to make the smiles shared more organic. Instead of thinking, how can I meet my smiling quota today? I thought how can I give someone an opportunity to smile today? It was through this shift in thinking that I was able to connect with people a lot better. I was now consciously making the effort to acknowledge that they may be sad or upset and trying to understand the root of their situation before seeing if I might be able to help be the ray of sun peaking through a parade of clouds. Sometimes, conversations would reveal that someone’s “clouds” weren’t just a bad day, but months or even years of pain. At this point, I would begin thinking, how can I give them an opportunity to heal? It was really this concept of healing that became a game changer for me. Google defines healing as “the process of making or becoming sound or healthy again.” Notice the word “process,” implying that healing doesn’t just happen overnight—it takes time. But it’s also achievable, hence the word “again.” And I’m not limiting healing to the emotional sense, but also the physical sense.
As a future pediatrician, I know I’m going to see a lot of people in pain or upset, but they are coming into my office because they are looking for an opportunity to heal. I also chose children as my target audience because I want to give them plenty of opportunities to stay healthy so they can focus on opportunities to grow their minds and dreams. I don’t want children worrying about all the things they physically can’t do, but rather all the great things they can. Even if it’s as simple as giving someone the opportunity to smile.