The amazing power of the small good deed
February 16, 2013
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Every day I read about people who do great things to help others. They give a million dollars to help a cause, spend 2 months helping people in a developing country, or organize thousands of people to achieve a goal. I’m always impressed. At the same time I usually feel depressed when I read these things. My thought is that I couldn’t do anything that grand. I don’t have the skills and usually I don’t have the time. Not to mention the courage. So I beat myself over the head a little, and then move on.
It’s taken me a long time to realize that while “big” good deeds may be outside my abilities, I can’t claim the same for the small ones that come up every day and that I often ignore because I’m “busy”.
I can always smile at someone to show that I notice them and that they are worthy of my attention. I can hold a door for someone, carry a package for them, give a compliment or a hug, or let them go ahead of me in line if they are in a hurry. I can listen to a friend who needs help with a problem, or help a stranger with directions.
There’s really no excuse for not doing these things. Other than selfishness. And selfishness isn’t something I want to promote – in myself or anyone else. So I’m working on getting over my selfishness and reaching out to others – one small good deed at a time. It’s tough sometimes, but when I get it right it’s always rewarding.
As an example, recently I was among several hundred passengers stranded by bad weather in the Philadelphia airport. As we all lined up to try to see an agent about our limited options, I noticed that the people in line were pretty hostile. I heard many of the people ahead of me in line arguing with the agents and criticizing the airline. I made a conscious choice to act differently. When my turn came I smiled at the agent and said, “It certainly looks like you are having a very challenging day.” She smiled and laughed as she took my now-useless boarding pass and started working on alternate arrangements. We chatted as she worked and laughed together as she struggle to get the overloaded system to print my new boarding pass. When it finally came through she handed it to me, smiled, and said thank you for a nice chat. I thanked her and went to catch my train.
So what could have been a very tense exchange turned out very differently.
Nothing grand here. Just two people working together in a difficult situation. And both of us came away less stressed and more productive than we would have if I had been aggressive.
So don’t overlook the small good deeds you can do each day. Their value is usually greater than you imagine.