Commentary: Love, Hugs and Smiles

By Louis A. Zona

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A sign hangs near the kitchen of a restaurant in Niles, Café 422. It asks the restaurant staff to be sure to treat its customers with kindness.

The handmade sign reads, “It’s funny but it’s true, the people that you like, they like you too.”

I’ve always loved that sign and do hope that I personally live up to its message. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone did?

As I think about it, the same sentiment is spelled out in the New Testament, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” And one other reference to the Bible: In 1 Corinthians 13:13, it is written “and now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

Years ago, I followed the writings of a most interesting psychologist and educator, Dr. Leo Buscaglia, whose books and public appearances focused upon the topic of love.

His two major books tell the story: “Love” and “Love One Another.” Buscaglia believed that people need to hug one another.

There’s a Peanuts cartoon that always made Dr. Buscaglia laugh. As I recall, Snoopy is seen walking down the sidewalk toward his friends. Charlie Brown observes that since Snoopy stops and begins to hug everyone, he must have just seen Leo Buscaglia on public television.

Leo Buscaglia began teaching the positive effect of hugs back in the 1970s when hugging was an acceptable act of affection. As we all know, the hug, and even the handshake, has been replaced by the fist bump in the post-COVID era.

And it’s a shame since Buscaglia’s teachings were slowly catching on before our obsession with hand washing, masks, and Purell.

Can we really blame folks for wanting to keep their hands in their pockets instead of extending them to a stranger?

COVID was and is a very scary thing. So, I wonder how Dr. Buscaglia would have handled the situation today as he preached love and the importance of hugging in a world that has been polluted by viruses.

I remember a television theme song from my childhood that was even recorded by Bing Crosby and never left my brain. It was called “Love Thy Neighbor” and the lyrics went something like this:

Love Thy Neighbor

Walk up and say “How be ya?”

Gee! but I’m glad to see ya, Pal,

How’s tricks? What’s new?

But I guess that we could list a thousand or more songs dealing with love as a theme such as “Love is a Many Splendored Thing” to “Love and Marriage” to the Dean Martin classic “That’s Amore.”

All of us of a certain age remember the movie taken from the novel “Love Story.” As you might remember, the movie was a real tearjerker.

I saw the movie with friends who were studying filmmaking. What was so interesting about that evening was that these graduate students even fooled themselves into believing that they were watching a real live experience and not a fantasy.

In talking with them afterward, what saddened them ultimately was the death of love. The greatest of emotions has to be love. Or as the Bible says, “the greatest of these is love.”

I don’t know why it seems that younger folks will rarely return a smile, something I see as a common courtesy. When I smile at an older person or offer a “good morning” or a “how are you?” I usually get a response.

When it comes even to younger adults, I generally expect no reply or even a return smile because none will come my way. I will never forget the time that I smiled and even held the door for a young couple only to be asked, “Who are you smiling at?” in a harsh tone, with no gratitude shown for holding the door for them either.

In this age of the mass shootings of innocents and a general negativity on the part of some, now more than ever we can use the sentiments expressed in that restaurant sign or the hugs of Leo Buscaglia.

I don’t believe that the heart of Mother Teresa will happen again in this world of many challenges. But I think back on the character of my own parents who were always aware that they were acting as role models for my brother, sisters and me.

They taught us respect for others. And while the smile issue bothers me, I think of a most forgettable song that speaks to the issue. Made popular by the late Perry Como, the beginning lyrics are, “Let a smile be your umbrella on a rainy, rainy day.”

I do believe that a simple smile can make someone’s day. A smile requires fewer facial muscles than a frown. I love the idea and it makes me smile. Funny, but it’s true!

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.