A smile is the chosen vehicle for all ambiguities

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In this essay…

Communication has been one of the most important drivers of civilizational development. It is of two kinds – verbal communication i.e., communicating by speaking some languages, and non-verbal communication i.e., communicating without speech. In fact, nonverbal communication existed even before the development of verbal communication. Smile is one kind of non-verbal communication. It conveys different emotions and messages depending on context. What does a smile mean here? It means the use of gentle words, accepting dissents, and disagreeing with someone without confrontation.

While a smile can express happiness, warmth, friendliness, etc. It can also be used to hide sadness, discomfort, or even deceit. Therefore, it depends on what kind of utility people see in a smile. Since we know that ambiguities are part and parcel of our life, encountering them effectively shows the skill set the people possess. Every ambiguity put forth largely two options to deal with it – reacting aggressively to the situation or reacting with a smile to create a calm and compose environment. Therefore, it is a chosen vehicle by the man during ambiguities. It brings mental peace, better decision-making power, emotional intelligence, etc.

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Tracing footprints of dealing ambiguities with smiles across the spectrum

Choosing a vehicle of smile is neither new nor unique. In ancient Greek, the jury of Athens put two options before Socrates – either drinks a cup of poison or keep his mouth shut and exile him from Athens. He was told to do so because he was accused of distracting youth in Athens. People in Athens used to ask questions to him until they get their answer. He was a great patriot and he was doing a noble job. Therefore, instead of compromising the truth, he preferred to drink poison with a smile.

Similarly, we can also understand this vehicle through a story of encountering Angulimala with Buddha. Angulimala was a blood-thirsty murderer who lived during the time of Buddha. Angulimala was known for wearing a garland of fingers that he cut from his victims. When Angulimala encountered Buddha, Buddha was unshaken and just stood there smiling. Angulimala tried to chase him, ‘Are you not afraid? You know I am Angulimala.’ He saw a man just standing there, the embodiment of peace and just smiling. He was stunned! A few minutes and then he melted. This is the power of a smile to deal with ambiguities.

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In a similar fashion, we can see the role of smiles in modern India. British imperial power was commanding violence against the Indian people when they stood against unjust policies like salt tax, high agriculture tax, etc. An old man appeared in the second decade of the 20th century who chose to smile against ambiguities rather than reacting instantly. He was none other than Mahatma Gandhi. His idea of satyagraha asked for exploring the power of truth and accepting suffering in the struggle with a smile. Therefore, the use of smiles and calmness enhanced the power of the nationalist movement.

Significances of Smile against Ambiguities in the contemporary world

Subsequently, in an independent India, the role of smile is playing a great role starting from an individual level to the globalized world. Smiling against ambiguities shows the mental strength of an individual. It helps us in imbibing rational thought processes. Humans are emotional by nature. Sometimes they act out of emotions. For example, some crime is committed by the perpetrator against someone due to a strong impulse instead of a premeditated crime. Therefore, in order to avoid impulsive decisions, walking with a smile becomes necessary.

However, the role of a smile plays an important role at the psychological level also. When a person faces a critical illness, doctors also advise creating a positive environment that acts as a catalyst in the process of healing. Even medicines work more efficiently when people are in a happy state of mind. Similar suggestions are advised to students as well. Calmness and facing ambiguities with a smile add more efficiency to the student in an exam. This can be understood through the fact that in calm and composed water in a pond, we can things lying at the bottom instead of swirling water.

Similarly, in the case of economic activities, we can witness the role of walking with a smile. Farmers engaged in animal husbandry may realize it. In a cultural sense, it is said that people must service pastoral animals at their homes. People provide comfort situations to cows and buffaloes – regular baths, arranging things to protect them from excessive summer and winter seasons, etc. How did it benefit them? A study shows that happier cows give more milk and more fat-content milk than the normal one that doesn’t get good services at home. Therefore, a smiling environment doesn’t only help in the ambiguous environment but also add prosperity to our life.

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Role of smile for a civil servant and the system as a whole

We know that excessive consumerism and materialistic growth-based economic models are leading to over-exploitation and unsustainable growth. Probably, that’s why Gandhiji was one of the staunch critics of unchecked industrialization and modern civilization. Over the period of time, civil society, civil servants, business societies, political leaders, etc have realized that considering economic growth is not sufficient for measuring human development. Economists are pointing out at happiness (smile) to measure human development against the ambiguities of unsustainable growth.

Similarly, civil servants encounter various incidences in their services that demands emotional intelligence, a calm and composed environment, etc. For example, a civil servant may face public protest in his/her career. It may be peaceful or violent. Therefore, it becomes important to deal with such situations with a smile. It will help not only in understanding his/her own potential and emotions but of others as well. In such situations, any impulsive decision may cause chaos in society. Therefore, a smile becomes an important vehicle for a civil servant to connect people with the government in a peaceful way.

Another side of the coin: How does sometimes an improper smile aggravate ambiguities?

A serious question is raised – Is a smile a calm-composed response to a challenge or an excuse to avoid the challenge? For instance, people facing criminal charges have a different reason to smile. These smiles can’t be considered a positive one. It must be constructive Similarly, in a personal sphere, it would be abnormal if one smiles on the demise of his/her near and dear. In contrast, if someone smiles in such a situation, it would be deemed as unusual behavior of human nature. Because the right emotions at the right time are very important for a human being.

Therefore smiling to avoid challenges and smiling for a cool-minded response is different. It is similar to a situation where a man is hungry due to lack of food is different from a man who is at fasting in a spiritual sense. Fasting for spirituality is chosen vehicle against the adversity of materialism and uncontrolled emotions. However, hunger is an unchosen vehicle that induces pain in the life of an individual. Similarly, renouncing home by Budha is different from the beggars who do not have their houses. Buddha chose to become a wanderer to gain spiritual knowledge. But beggars having no house are suffering.

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Now the last but not least question remains whether the simile is to be taught or is it inherent. It is true that some people have inherent qualities of smiling that are genetically transferred from their parents. But it doesn’t mean that it can’t be taught. It can always be taught. In this process, we can magnify our mental strength through physical activities like yoga and exercises. Subsequently, our mental strength leads us to stand smiling in all ambiguities.

In conclusion

Therefore, a proper smile at the right time is important. It could be best understood from the couplet of Vasim Barelvi (“Kaun si bat kaha kahi jae, yah salika ho to har bat suni jati hai” – Meaning all points are noted provided it should be said at the right time, at the right place and a right way). Thus, smiling at the right time, at the right place, and in the right way become important conditions. If it does so, then it will bring strength to an individual to deal with uncertain and ambiguous events in life. Since the state is nothing but the sum up of individuals of a country, it can bring peace and prosperity to a nation as well.


  1. Britannica | The public’s hatred of Socrates
  2. Book | Tryst with Satyagraha by Mahatma Gandhi
  3. The Suburban Times | Happy Cows Produce More Milk 
  4. International Committee of the Red Cross | A Humanitarian Re-Reading of the Angulimala Sutta
  5. Times Magazine | Happiness Really Can Improve Health
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    Saurabh Singh

    Thank you for such a nice and relevant

    June 8, 2023
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