The Smile That Redeemed The Human Race

December 13, 2013

Compassion, Love


Many years ago, in a different lifetime, I was hurting emotionally because of the actions of someone I loved. The exact cause is irrelevant. My face clearly showed anguish. As I was driving along I stopped at some lights and another car containing two young women stopped, facing me in the other direction. One of them looked straight at me, saw the pain in my face and flashed me a sympathetic and understanding smile. She said something to her friend and they both looked at me with expressions that said: “It’s all right. Nothing can be that bad.” I smiled  weakly in return but felt better. The load had been lifted, not completely, but I was no longer being crushed.

It was one of those incidents that you never forget. What exactly had transpired between us? No words had been exchanged. I had never met those two angels of compassion and would never see them again. But they had felt my pain as one human being to another. No doubt they thought they had experienced something similar themselves and were willing, maybe even felt obliged, to share their knowledge that time heals everything. A look was all it took. How authentic those two women must have been. There was no delay to assess the situation. How might a strange man react to a woman smiling at him? What business was it of theirs to intrude into one man’s private pain? They would never know that their smile would never be forgotten.

Why was I so affected by this act? Clearly they were not the first people to smile at me, not even the first young attractive women. But this smile had been different. This was a smile freely given with no expectation of gain. This was a smile unmediated by social conventions, a simple, spontaneous act of compassion. It was the kind of smile that redeems the human race.


“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.” Dalai Lama

, , ,

About Malcolm Greenhill

Malcolm Greenhill is President of Sterling Futures, a fee-based financial advisory firm, based in San Francisco. I write about wealth related issues in the broadest sense of the word. When I am not writing, reading, working and spending time with family, I try to spend as much time as possible backpacking in the wilderness.

View all posts by Malcolm Greenhill


Subscribe to our RSS feed and social profiles to receive updates.

40 Comments on “The Smile That Redeemed The Human Race”

  1. Tahira Says:

    Kindness & compassion, I have learned, comes unexpectedly in all sizes & shapes. Lovely post, Malcolm.


  2. Eric Tonningsen Says:

    Perhaps you’ve had similar emotional experiences when “backpacking in the wilderness.” They give pause, they touch, they teach, and they create reflective moments – some that last. Could it be that they are intended to simply evoke gratitude? Do we need to know why? Perhaps we can acknowledge such connections, be they spiritual or otherwise, and appreciate being in that moment. The take-away becomes a variable, unique to the way in which each of us filters.

    How warming that you had the exchange, Malcolm. It seems to have significantly touched you.


    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Eric, thank you. The post was specifically about compassion but I agree with you that the wilderness does alter us all in different ways. I can’t think of anyone who I have gone into the wilderness with for a prolonged period that was not changed in some way.


  3. aaforringer Says:

    Wonderful my friend. This brings to mind similar instances in my own life, thanks for brining them to surface of my thoughts.


  4. becwillmylife Says:

    I really appreciated this piece very much, Malcolm. Compassion really is the glue that binds us as a human race. All other barriers immediately vanish.


  5. Lisa Chesser Says:

    It is one of those human expressions that can work magic on lost souls. Beautiful words.


  6. lucidity in a bottle Says:

    It’s interesting that despite the brevity of the gesture you received, it still affected you so profoundly. I have been the receiver of such gestures and actions, and they touch me deeply. How can something of so little material value mean so much to the soul?
    I think it’s a beautiful work, would you mind if I reblog it?


  7. lucidity in a bottle Says:

    Reblogged this on lucidity in a bottle and commented:
    This was a touching piece I read from the blog Malcolm’s Corner


  8. Holistic Wayfarer Says:

    “They would never know that their smile would never be forgotten.”
    Poignant. The unknowing imprint we leave on others – for better and worse – is a most remarkable power.

    Fabulous closing thought. (Yes, it’s the title, but love the way it closes the post.)


  9. Malcolm Greenhill Says:

    Thank you. Your comment highlights the important point that we should all be more aware of the unknowing imprint we are having on others, for good or for bad.


  10. Michele Seminara Says:

    Beautiful Malcolm!


  11. Dalo 2013 Says:

    This is just the brilliance of life at its best, Malcolm. Compassion and empathy. It also makes me wonder about the number of times that you given the same to others, and perhaps you never realized it yourself and the impact on ‘the stranger’ you happened to just give a simple smile. This story makes me feel good, and reinforces the importance of how we interact with each other; perfect timing as well with the holidays in full gear. Happy Holidays!


    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Great point about reinforcing the importance of how we interact with each other. Just thinking about that would make me so much more careful about accidentally upsetting someone. Given that resentments might last forever it also seems better to always err on the side of forgiveness.


  12. Kate Loveton Says:

    You experienced a moment of unexpected grace. They’re rare, and worthy of remembrance. Good post.


  13. Shakti Ghosal Says:

    Hi Malcolm,

    Loved the post. I suppose it is all about empathy and compassion. Each one of us is born with these two aspects hardwired into us but somewhere through our years of socialisation, we learn to suppress and put a lid on these qualities we possess.

    As I think of that of that smile that redeemed you, I sense it coming from a space of “Being”, a consciousness that manifested as a frequency (of energy) through the process of giving, of allowing, of offering and of serving. It asks nothing back. This was the power that you witnessed and cannot forget.




    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      “we learn to suppress and put a lid on these qualities”

      Yes, you are right of course. Life teaches us to be selective with our empathy and compassion, to use it only to further our interests. That of course raises the interesting question of why spontaneous and unselfish actions have survived?


  14. Brett Says:

    This is a really powerful piece, Malcolm. I’ve had some similar experiences. Once, while crying outside a church, I saw an old man walk by, and he gave me a similar smile, lifting a lot of the pain. Makes one happy to be human.


  15. Gregoryno6 Says:

    Reblogged this on The mind is an unexplored country. and commented:
    Help arrives at the moment you least expect it.


  16. Ann Koplow Says:

    I’m so glad our paths have crossed here. Wonderful post. Thanks!


  17. timelesslady Says:

    Thank you for reminding me that today,and every day, I need to smile at everyone I meet, and not in a careless way, in a way that shows respect and support…even if it is for only a fleeting moment I must connect…you have reminded me that yes, it does matter. Kathy


  18. ptero9 Says:

    In recent years I find myself more willing to make eye contact with anyone, but what I have noticed is how few people are looking up, never mind looking at you.

    It is a wonderful experience to meet the eye of a stranger and exchange a knowing glance.

    Thank you for sharing with us!


    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Debra, you’re right. Nowadays everyone is looking at their devices. On a personal note, my eyesight has changed, as I have got older, from being short-sighted to long-sighted and I have noticed how much more outgoing I am because I can now see someone’s face clearly as they come into a room or as they approach in the street and acknowledge them appropriately. I now wonder whether people I used to think socially inept or rude just had an eyesight problem.


      • ptero9 Says:

        ” I now wonder whether people I used to think socially inept or rude just had an eyesight problem.”

        Good point Malcolm, and that goes for me too 🙂


  19. Malcolm Greenhill Says:

    Thank you for the linkback.



  1. Spirit of Steller’s Sea Eagles of Hokkaido | China Sojourns Photography - 作客中国摄影 - December 18, 2013

    […] else, it can be the greatest gift of all.  Malcolm Greenhill wrote a poignant post on his blog (Malcolm’s Corner)about this the other day, how a small gesture of compassion from one person can impact another […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: