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Opinion, Dave Dale: Tolerating ‘nice’ isn’t so bad

Personally, I’m quick to cynicism and a tad sarcastic at times but also easily amused and quite capable of optimism when pressed. So my experience during the Ribfest weekend might stand as a life lesson.
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Good things happen when you let the light shine through.

There’s a wide-ranging debate about how many facial muscles it takes to flash a frown compared to a smile. I haven’t found the studies comparing the eye-roll some of you just performed to the effort it takes to raise an eyebrow when curious.

If you’d rather get outraged over the spread of Monkeypox, the Pope’s bizarre public relations tour or the pitfalls of expecting decency on social media platforms, go ahead and fill your boots. And until the third North Bay mayoral candidate decides to fish or cut bait, there’s not much use getting into the deep political divides on the horizon.

I’d rather tell a story about tolerating nice people and how it seems to be paying dividends (I actually allowed some bible thumpers to pray for me at the waterfront and there was no plume of sulphur or lightning strike).

Suffice to say, the ‘smiling vs frowning’ discussion paves the way for a deeper contemplation.

Very learned and curious people have actually gone so far as categorize various intensities of expressing gloom and beaming joy.

As it stands, slight smirks and minor pouts are in a dead heat, while extreme joy actually involves one more muscle than a hateful glare. For the academics who demand to see references, here’s one paragraph from a FlipScience.ph article to prove I’m not just making things up again:

In 2004, author Cecil Adams tried to settle the matter in his popular newspaper Q&A column The Straight Dope. With the help of plastic surgeon David H. Song, Adams identified 12 principal muscles required for a Duchenne smile (a smile that also causes crinkling of the skin around the eyes—a sign of genuine joy) and only 11 for a frown.

This Song character, however, added that smiling likely takes less effort in the long run because people generally smile more (I’m not sure they included the grumps online in that study) so those muscles are well tuned.

There’s also discussion about the value of smiling vs frowning, knowing that humans mirror what they see and the impact of your emotional billboard has ripple effects. Being in good humour has positive health impacts while being a Gloomy George all the time has negative results (this is so obvious I shouldn’t need to cite studies and references).

Personally, I’m quick to cynicism and a tad sarcastic at times but also easily amused and quite capable of optimism when pressed. So my experience during the Ribfest weekend might stand as a life lesson.

It started when a trio of believers were walking beside me on the Memorial Drive sidewalk parallel to Shabogesic Beach. I started to cross the road leading to King’s Landing when the tall blonde female spoke mid-stride, stopping me in my tracks.

She said they noticed I have a bad leg and explained they’d like to pray for people who have such struggles, or something to that effect. There was a shorter, slightly younger girl and a guy. They looked to be about the age of first-year college students, maybe high school.

What you need to know is that I’m not religious at all, almost the opposite and quite close to anti-religion. In fact, I’m usually a touch offended when people push their beliefs on others so my reaction years ago would have been a cold ‘No’ at the very least, possibly a suggestion on where they could travel next.

Toxic ‘nice’ and blind faith is often more annoying to me than nails on a blackboard.

I’ve mellowed considerably, though, and when it comes to talking to “young folk” I try to remember they are someone else’s kids and deserve at least the respect I’d demand for my own.

I suggested we go to the shade of a tree because the discussion might take a bit and the sun was bearing down on us. It does seem to burn hotter than decades ago.

They asked about my limpy-leg and I gave them the five-cent tour: congenital dysplasia unnoticed for a while, a repair surgery, a childhood accident, more surgeries, injuries, more surgeries, etc. They seemed genuinely interested and the blonde remarked that I didn’t seem as bitter as one might be given the impact.

When it came to the prayer thing, I suggested it be more for the next surgery if there is one, rather than the leg itself (in hindsight, a prayer for the next surgeon might be more appropriate).

She asked if I could sit or lay down so they could put their hands on me or my leg and I politely declined. I imagined a passerby taking a cellphone pic and posting it online with bad intentions. We can just bow our heads, I said.

I was both positively satisfied with the encounter and a pinch amused, more at myself than at them to be truthful. As I limped away I had a smile inside, happy I acted maturely with inquisitive communion.

After strolling down the recently upgraded “boardwalk” of paving stones, I saw Lynn Blunt busking at the spot before the boat launch and with the marina providing a peaceful and natural venue. We chatted for a bit. A week or so prior we were messaging about her needing a new video of a public performance to bolster her portfolio, as well as potentially singing at one of my future dinner shows.

I then noticed the trio of good tidings walking our way with six or seven others and told Lynn she should start her next song, thinking it might be a chance at getting some donations if nothing else.

On her own accord, Lynn decided to announce she was going to sing ‘Hallelujah’ by Leonard Cohen and you should have seen the big smile on my face then. Perfect, I thought, what a divine choice.

They had to stop and sit down for that, with the trio recognizing me off the hop standing to the side with my video camera rolling.

After the song, their leader started a conversation with Lynn and it became clear most of them were from Victoria, B.C., which touched the singer's heart. She shared a story about being in Victoria two years ago because her son had a serious health challenge. Lynn said she went about Victoria seeking “a sign” that would help her decide to move there or not.

Nothing convinced her either way, but during the flight home she came up with a song about the emotions the situation compelled, ‘Victoria, Are You Calling Me?’ Lynn then sang it for them and it sure was a beautiful thing.

Afterward, the group leader explained that they are traveling the country to pray for people they come across and asked if they could do so for her and her son.

That was my cue to depart and I left with a huge smile, a mixture of positivity and amusement at the way things sometimes go when you’re open to kindness – or at least not actively closed-minded to it.

Religions are political tools and often misused, leaving a trail of suffering in their wake and stealing riches along the way.

But I do believe in the spiritualism of nature, that we are cosmically connected by universal energy and influenced by our co-existence.

And sometimes, when you let the ‘nice and polite’ part of you get some playing time, good things can result.

Case in point, the video of Lynn’s interaction and songs got more traction and views online than most of my story-telling efforts (not as much as the high school football, backyard fisher and carpenter ant videos but give it time).

I’m not likely to stop being constructively critical with snarky spice mixed into my missives, yet there’s always a balanced needed in life. It wouldn’t kill me to be a tad more ‘nice’ and turn that frown upside down.

Dave Dale is a veteran journalist and columnist who has covered the North Bay area for more than 30 years. Reader responses meant as Letters to the Editor can be sent to editor@baytoday.ca. To contact the writer directly, email: davedale@backinthebay.ca or check out his website www.smalltowntimes.ca