“Remember there is no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.”
-Scott Adams, author and creator of Dilbert
I’ve always said that cliches are cliche for a reason. There’s a lot of truth in the idea that “all that glitters isn’t gold”: when something or someone looks too good to be true, they usually are. In my experience as a Guest Service advocate at Target, I learned first hand that time really does fly when you’re having fun (or rather that the opposite is just as true.) And in 2020, the year life decided to only give us lemons, there’s really no point in crying over spilled milk. Sure, that last cliche was a two-in-one but, as I have yet to find a way to make lemonade from COVID-19, I’m sticking with it.
So today I’ve decided to focus less on the big picture and narrow my scope. There’s a lot to be said about the belief in small acts making a big difference. Just look at the state of our world: we are learning, now more than ever, that the actions of a single person who lives across the world can snowball into a global crisis that affects us all! We can never know how our choices each day will affect the world to come. Even the media is coming to understand this so called “butterfly effect”: we have entire genres of movies and games now devoted to the complex idea of a single choice having far reaching consequences (2004’s film The Butterfly Effect and games like Until Dawn and Life is Strange).
Hindsight, as the saying goes, is 20/20. But what do we do when we cannot see the effects of the choices we make day to day? Sometimes it feels like our choices don’t matter very much in the grand scheme: the work we do may feel unfulfilled, getting coffee with that friend won’t make us feel less lonely, the food we choose to eat feels unimportant. Some of us may feel this way about life at times, wondering if our choosing to live it out really has any purpose at all. Before I continue, I want to tell anyone out there that it does: each of our lives has a purpose. What that purpose is may be elusive and hard to pin down. Or discouraging when we feel we’ve found it but realize that we were wrong. But we all serve some greater purpose and are, in many ways, essential beings to walk the Earth. Even if we don’t realize it.
But actions speak louder than words, so I will pull from a personal experience to further illustrate that point. In high school, I was not the most popular kid in my grade. Don’t get me wrong; I knew every person by name, was on friendly terms with most of them, and had a close group of friends with whom I would spend most of my time. But as far as the role of “Quarterback dating the cheerleader who had signs made of his face” went, I was far from it. So I never really thought I had anything real to contribute to my class. Just another face in the yearbook, so to speak.
So when I met a boy who had transferred into our school, I didn’t think anything of it when I invited him to sit with me after school. A long day was ahead of me: building set pieces for stage crew, leading an Ambassadors meeting, and then watching a basketball game. So I asked him if he’d like to join me that afternoon. He agreed. He helped me paint a few cardboard pillars, did some homework during my meeting, and explained the rules of basketball to me as we both cheered on my friend. Before I graduated later that year, he pulled me aside to thank me. I didn’t understand what I had done, so he explained: the day I had invited him to sit with me, he had been contemplating killing himself. Change is hard for anyone and moving to a new school without a single friend can be especially challenging. I’d never have known, in the year of our friendship, that the same boy who joined stage crew and constantly made all of us laugh would have ever considered ending his own life.
But with every experience, there’s a lesson to be learned. In this one, I learned two. The first is that a small act of kindness, something as simple and easy as inviting someone to sit with you, can have such a profound impact on the course of their life journey. By expressing his experience and what my small gesture meant to him, I learned my second lesson as well: sometimes all it takes is a word of thanks to change someone’s perspective for the better. Since then, I find myself going out of my way to extend a hand of friendship to the people I meet. You never know what that one gesture might mean to them. So in a world full of swirling grey clouds, we can help each other find that silver lining through a word, a gesture, or even just by being ourselves.
Do you have any stories about a small act of kindness that changed your mood, your day, or your life? Or perhaps a story when you did something small for someone else, only to learn later you made a big difference? Share them in the comments or by messaging us at firstname.lastname@example.org! Stay safe and hopeful!