Friday, April 5, 2013

America: When People Are Paid to Smile

Parshat Shemini
25 Nisan 5773
April 5th, 2013
10th Day of the Omer


My problem with America is that here, people are paid to smile at each other. 

I just rented a car. The woman at the counter was lovely. She bustled. She beamed. And it was as clear as day that her kindness was part and parcel of the corporate image she was entrusted to project.

Don't get me wrong - the smiling works. Oh, does it work. Her smile lifts up that mundane transaction. I leave with the feeling that, you know, the world is an alright place to be. Maybe Ward and the Beaver are waiting for me at home?

But deep down lies the knowledge that we only transacted. We connected through commodity, and it goes no deeper than that. This is the darkside to our commercial courtesy: here, when someone smiles at me, suspicion grips me: I am sure that she's about to sell me something.

To my chagrin, the Talmud sides with Enterprise Rent-a-Car. In Brakhot 6b, Rabbi Chelbo says in the name of Rav Huna, "If one knows that another person will always say hello...and does not return that person's greeting, s/he is called a thief..."

I concede that greeting is a currency. It is passed from one person to another. One's greeting has value; therefore, we possess the power to honor, or manipulate, that value.

What bothers me that is that, in American culture, we spend our greetings mostly in order to make currency of another kind, which is green, and rhymes with the word 'subprime real estate/mortgage-backed securities'. We smile to make money.

We should spend our greetings on other things as well. It is important. An order of "It's just a beautiful day," or "You look like you need a smile," or even a simple "I see you," may be worth the expenditure. For if our smiles are only for the sake of another's usefulness to us, what will we do in the moments when their utility fails?

No comments:

Post a Comment