Woman Backed for Shutting Down 'Patronizing' Stranger Telling Her To Smile

Members of a popular internet forum rallied behind one woman whose quick thinking left a stranger sputtering and stammering in the middle of the street.

In a viral Reddit post published on r/pettyrevenge, Redditor u/Revolutionary_Ant209 (otherwise referred to as the original poster, or OP) said she was running errands when a random man informed her that she should appear more cheerful, sparking fury and an Oscar-worthy acting performance in the process.

Titled, "A stranger tells me 'Smile, it could be worse.' Instantly regrets it," the post has received more than 15,000 upvotes and 1,500 comments in the last nine hours.

"As I was walking, I was going through my long to-do list in my head. I wasn't frowning, I wasn't smiling. My face was just in neutral," OP began. "A man starts heading towards me. As we pass, he tells me, 'Smile, it could be worse.'"

After being told to smile by a stranger, the original poster said she simply stopped and stared at the man. Then, she dropped a bombshell.

"I say, 'My parents were in an accident. My mum died on impact. We're turning off my dad's life support tomorrow,'" OP wrote. "The guy looked like a robot being suddenly shut down....He looked like a deer in the headlights."

Despite his greatest efforts to find the perfect response, the original poster said the man was speechless and eventually turned and walked away.

The original poster also said that her message to the stranger wasn't the truth—both of her parents are fine and there was no accident. Still, however, her message was clear.

"It annoys me when people think they have the right to dictate how people are feeling," OP wrote. "It's unhelpful and patronizing.

"Imagine telling somebody who was just given a terminal diagnosis, 'Smile, it could be worse,'" OP continued. "Or somebody who has lost a child, been laid off, or is otherwise struggling...?"

While smiles—ear-to-ear or more reserved—are usually welcome, being told to smile is a different story and often viewed as a sign of condescension and disrespect.

The practice of telling others to smile is also aimed predominantly at women.

Recently, data published by Inc. revealed that 98 percent of women reported being told to smile at work at some point in their lives.

In addition, 15 percent of women reported that these types of interactions happen on a weekly basis and have a direct impact on feeling underappreciated and disrespected within the workplace.

Although the seeming obsession with telling women to smile is longstanding, the last decade has brought increasing pushback, with multiple major outlets like USA Today and The Washington Post publishing columns railing against those who continue the unsavory tradition.

In fact, as COVID-related mask restrictions have been rolled back across the country, Washington Post writer Ashley Fetters Maloy asserted that, because faces are now visible in public places, requests for smiles will regain their pre-pandemic prevalence.

"Glowers and frowns are set to make their return to society," Maloy wrote. "And so are the annoying-at-best, threatening-at-worst comments that people often feel entitled to make about them."

Man and woman arguing on sidewalk
Tense interaction between a man and woman on the sidewalk. Members of Reddit's r/pettyrevenge forum defended one woman for her bombshell response to a stranger's assertion that she needs to smile. AntonioGuillem/iStock / Getty Images Plus

Throughout the comment section of the viral Reddit post, Redditors responding to the original poster admonished unwanted smile requests and questioned the benefit of telling a complete stranger to appear happier for no apparent reason.

"I don't know a single person who has been helped by 'Smile' or 'Cheer up' by a complete stranger," Redditor u/kathjoy wrote in the post's top comment, which has received more than 3,000 upvotes.

"If somebody wants to be sad, let them be sad...we can't be happy all the time. And that's fine. Healthy even," they added. "Dude needs to mind his business."

Redditor u/blankslate1498, whose comment has received nearly 3,000 upvotes, echoed that sentiment.

"I've always hated the 'you can't be upset about something because it could be worse' mentality," they wrote. "I understand trying to put things in perspective...however people are allowed to feel what they feel.

"Also, minding your own business is free, and more people should take advantage of that," they added.

Newsweek reached out to u/Revolutionary_Ant209 for comment.