This I Believe

Anne - Alexandria, Virginia
Entered on August 29, 2006

Why I Believe in Keeping My Chin Up

I was raised in the part of Illinois that is not Chicago, in the heart of the Midwest. My parents were the children of the children of German and Scandinavian immigrants. And they taught me, as their forebears taught them, that in the face of adversity, it is best to keep your chin up.

Despite this early training, I did not grow up to be a particularly stoic. I don’t care to count the number hours and dollars I’ve spent to fill my endless need for love, money, acceptance and things that were bad for me. Perhaps as a purposeful antithesis to my stiff upper lip upbringing, I was among the most emotional women on my dorm floor, in the apartments I shared, and in my row of cubicles. I purchased self help books by the dozens, sought out friends on a similar quest for meaning, and tried in vain to understand why the world seemed to be against me.

And somewhere in the tomes of self development and the sessions of self exploration, I got some simple advice. Coincidentally, it involves raising one’s eyes from the iPod, or the Blackberry, or the cute new shoes purchased for a momentary rush of fulfillment. The advice was to acknowledge fellow beings – on the street, in the bagel shop or while waiting to board the plane. Not to engage in long conversation, but at the very least to meet a stranger’s eye or venture to say hello. Could this have been what was actually meant by keeping your chin up?

At first it was hard, but I immediately saw the benefits. Simply nodding to a neighbor on the street could have positive effects on my entire day. For the most part people return a smile, if not a nod or a genuine hello. Some even engage in conversation in the supermarket line or comment on the virtues of a pomegranate Frappicino juice blend. Whether it leads to further communication is not the point. It is to offer, and experience in return, basic human kindness. As a result, we gain a chance to realize that the world really isn’t a scary place, because it’s made up of people. People who are like us and people who are different from us. But people who, for the most part, don’t mind a smile from a stranger. And usually return it gladly.

Technology will continue to provide us the chance be alone in a crowded place. But I believe that if you really want to feel less alone, all you need to do is keep your chin up. You might be amazed to find that the world isn’t such a terrible place after all.