A Moment's Kindness: Don't Underestimate The Power Of Small Gestures
I’ve a secret: most of us don’t realize the impact we have on other people. This only makes sense, I suppose, since heart-to-heart conversations are hard to schedule in our sound-bite, quick-fix culture. Also, I think it can be embarrassing to admit need, and for this reason it can be hard to tell someone about when and how they provided your life with a little extra sunshine and possibly laughter.
One gesture of kindness which has stayed with me for over eight years is when a new friend edited an essay I shared with him. I didn’t ask him to, and this is what made the event more miraculous. He assured me the essay was good enough to publish, and then kindly pointed out a few things which could be improved. We remain friends to this day, and I believe I’ve thanked him for this gesture. If not, I should do so the moment I finish posting this article.
This may sound like a minor incident from an outside perspective, yet for me it was remarkably affirming. His belief in my writing abilities has continued to inspire me, and I wonder how I can offer such moments of grace to others.
Here’s a problem I wrestle with, and perhaps you can relate: I underestimate or even dismiss the importance of small gestures. I’d much rather write a friend who has suffered a personal loss a long, compassionate letter over sending a quick email or calling them. Yet if my choice is between never getting around to writing the letter—which may be overly ambitious—or immediately offering a different kind of greeting, I need to learn to accept the seemingly “less” impactful gesture because it may be more powerful than I realize.
Small gestures are often powerful because they demand attention be paid to another person. This can mean smiling at your cashier at Walmart, opening the door for someone at the library, or letting someone who is merging into your lane of traffic squeeze in ahead of you. These gestures may seem too minuscule to amount to much, if anything. As someone who has worked extensively in the hospitality industry, I assure you a small kindness can carry great weight depending on other circumstances.
This leads me to my next point: We often don’t know what is going on in the lives of others. It’s easy to be judgmental when your waitress is stressed, but it’s possible she was up the night before tending to a sick child. It’s also possible the kind words we offer to someone will help them far down the road. This has happened to me on a number of occasions, and I am amazed how these former remarks have lingered within my memory so patiently until I need them.
The fact I do need these kind words is my next point. As much as we may want to believe we are fully autonomous beings who don’t need other people, this isn’t true. We need people to remind us to take ourselves less seriously, to affirm us, and to offer us a hug or a pat on the back when we are feeling discouraged. Even if you live hundreds of miles from your friends and family—hence making giving them a hug rather complicated—you can offer small gestures in the form of phone calls, emails, letters, text messages, and Facebook posts. I honestly don’t know if it matters so much how one reaches out presuming one makes an effort.
One of my personal convictions is treating those who serve me respectfully. Often I’ll ask cashiers how they are doing, and I will try to address them by name if they have a nametag. I’ll also try to say please and thank you, and, if at all possible, refrain from taking a call on my cell phone while I am being served. While my simple actions may not drastically improve their day, it is something. And this something is better than nothing.
Have you been kind to a cashier today?
Last May I witnessed two friends of mine extend kindness to many who weren’t overtly grateful. Afterwards I remember finding the Robert Louis Stevenson quote “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.” I’ve since shared this quote with these friends in the hope it will encourage them to be generous again even if the “harvest” from their kind deeds isn’t immediately obvious.
I try to carry these words from Anne Lamott with me as I go about my daily life: “I realize again and again that this is really all you have to offer people most days, a touch, a moment’s gladness. It has to do, and it often does.”
This quote reminds me to offer “a moment’s gladness” when I can, as well as to let others know when they have improved my life by their actions. While I can obviously improve in both these areas, I am trying. And this is something which can and will add up. Will you join me?