Words From Rabbi Peter Tobias

On this day in 1926, the beloved comedian Eric Morecambe was born. When I checked his dates, I was astonished to discover that he died thirty years ago – remarkable to think that he has been gone for so long, though his joyful legacy, seeking to bring sunshine into our world, lives on.

In the last few days I’ve been testing a theory of which Eric might well have approved. I think that behind what are often stony cold faces on trains, in the street or in supermarkets is a need for communication, for human warmth.

But reports in the media tend to emphasise the worst of human nature, and I think this has made us fearful of and alienated from each other. We sense danger rather than opportunity in human contact.

So I’ve been smiling at or trying to help people in a whole variety of places. Helping someone up a staircase with a pushchair or a piece of heavy luggage is a pretty obvious one, but is always appreciated. Holding open a door to make way for another person often produces a smile of acknowledgement that can brighten someone’s day. Sometimes I’ll even try and make conversation, which is often a bit risky. I could be ignored, told to mind my own business or worse.

Most people in our too busy, too preoccupied, too anxious society are so wrapped up in their own worlds that they either tend not to notice much of what is going on around them, or even actively resent any intrusion into their private space. But I figured that perhaps the potential for cheerfulness dwells in everyone; it’s just a case of taking the risk to unlock it.

Eric Morecambe believed that we should bring people sunshine with our smiles.

That simple wisdom found an echo in the wisdom of the rabbis of old who said that a person should greet everyone with a cheerful face.