While the nation shakes its collective fist at TSA for failing to get passengers through security in a timely fashion, I found myself staring down one TSA man in particular during my most recent travel. In what was most likely an attempt to seem charming and personal, this TSA worker was greeting travelers as they waited for their IDs and boarding passes to be checked. “Where are you headed?” was his opener, and then small talk ensued, based on the traveler’s answer.
He asked a little girl in front of me where she was going, and when she said “Florida,” he replied, “Well then you should be smiling.” Okay, so this response might seem innocent and like no big deal (it’s just small talk, right?), but I happen to believe that nobody has the right to tell another how they SHOULD be feeling or expressing themselves.
A potential lesson the little girl learned from this interaction filled with subtle shaming (any time “should” is used, there’s a degree of shame involved):
How you actually feel doesn’t matter, it’s important to appear happy and pleasant.
Many of us might be guilty of saying something similar to a young person; “Smile!”; “This is fun, stop taking yourself so seriously!”; “This is not the end of the world, get over it.”; “When I was your age, I loved making new friends,” and so on. The thing is, what seems like small talk to us has the potential to make a lasting impression on a young person. I propose we stop being lazy small talkers and take the time and energy to really see and listen to the young people in our lives. I’m confident that if we do this, it will benefit their mental health and sense of self.