Turning the world with a smile
It is kind of ironic that my wife said it while I was in a moment of frustration over trying to write this column about Judaism and humor. She said, “the positive attitude in my classroom is really infectious.” My wife teaches third graders. From the beginning of the year she worked really hard at the setting a can do attitude and creating an environment filled with the joy of learning for her class. Now, as the year comes to an end, she has started to hear the students generating the good will. Individually, students offer enthusiasm and excitement for the lessons and projects. Then, others catch on and amplify the positive.
As my wife described what was going on in her classroom, I remembered an experience from earlier in the week. My son’s little league baseball team was losing badly. Not only was their opponent playing at a different level, our team was making bad mistakes at the plate and in the field. The kids were getting frustrated and upset. Between innings the coaches told them to catch their breaths and reset for the rest of the game. We put on rally caps and started cheering for our batters as they went up to bat. The team did not suddenly mount an amazing comeback, but they absolutely played better. They started making plays in the field and hustling on the bases. It was still a blowout loss, but the whole energy of the team afterwards was different than it could have been. The players were excited for the next game and enjoying the experience of baseball.
It is a trope that has been repeating around me a lot lately. At the Memorial Mass for Monsignor Irvine Nugent of St. Helen’s Catholic Church, Father Edwards quoted the Monsignor who said that Joy is the unmistakable sign of God’s presence. Or in the TV show the Middle, the middle daughter Sue is given the task of coming up with a hypothesis and finding a way to test it. What did she come up with? She wanted to see if smiling was infectious. Through most of the show she walked around smiling and checking to see if others would return the joyous expression. What was heartening was that in her final report for class while she acknowledged that in fact very few smiles were returned, she was not going to give up hope. She concluded that joy and smiles are infectious even if her project did not show it. She would keep working until she found a way to infect those around her with her positive attitude. The hypothesis was correct she just had to find the right way to prove it.
The perspective of this Television character truly struck me. It resonated with my wife’s classroom experience, my son’s baseball game, the quote and the stories of Monsignor Nugent. It is the embodiment of the words of Ben Azzai, “Mitzvah gareret mitzvah….one mitzvah leads to another mitzvah. Avera gareret avera…and one sin leads to another. ” (Pirke Avot 4:2) This is more than a collection of stories about persevering with the positive. This is precisely the approach of the prophets of the Hebrew Bible. They said it once; they said it twice, over and over, God would speak through the prophets to get the people to turn to the right path. And so it is with us. Joy can be infectious. The positive attitude of one can feed and inspire others. Sometimes, with the challenges and frustrations of life, we give into our bad habits and sit in the negative. Yet, in collecting these stories, witnessing these experiences and living with a smile, joy, and the positive, we can inspire and turn ourselves and the communities we live in to always reach higher.