Are you aware of your daily movements and motions and how they impact others around you or do you more easily fall into the rhythm of your days without consciously knowing how you impact the lives of others? Do you even want to make an imprint or is your main goal to just get through the day with as little friction as possible?
A few days ago I received a message from someone that I never met expressing deep words of gratitude regarding my behavior towards her daughter. She held on to her words for one entire year before finally reaching out to me to share how I positively influenced her daughter's life. I mean WOW. Tears streamed down my face as I read, and reread her message, sharing how my "kindness" affected her family. Honestly, I can't say I did anything worth mentioning to receive this message. There isn't anything notable I did that I could share with you to be worthy of her words. Something did suddenly click though; even our most basic acts of kindness and generosity make a huge impact on others. Sometimes others may express the impact made right away, sometimes they may express it one year later, and sometimes they may never express it at all, but rest assured that every move we make affects someone around us. Her message served as a powerful reminder of how crucial it is that as human beings, we think beyond ourselves and make it a habit to make reaching out to others an integral part of our daily routines. After reading her note, I knew more than ever to continue living immersed in my rooted values of letting others know that they are truly cared for, no matter how often I may feel overlooked and regardless of how regularly my gestures are unreciprocated because the biggest joys in my life have often come directly from fulfilled acts of kindness.
My ten-year-old daughter was dying to share with her friends that we are moving to San Diego. I asked her to refrain from sharing the news until it was official. I didn't think she would make it and started to consider whether my request was unfair or unrealistic. Yet, she waited five whole weeks to finally release her well-contained excitement only to receive "cool" or "wow" as responses from her friends. Now, luckily she is a very well-adjusted child, and I already prepared her for the dull responses she would likely receive, which allowed her to maturely accept the lack of enthusiasm from her friends. She is totally fine with their non-reactions. It is me that spent some time deliberating their unsupportive responses. I could easily blow their reactions off as "no biggie" since they came from children. Except that I received the same responses (or lack of) from their adult parents. So then I started to wonder more deeply, why do so many of us have our head up our ass? Do we even realize that we are losing touch with a deeper purpose in our lives by floating through life? Are we aware that we are raising children who are on the path to become adults who will also one day only deeply care about their own lives? How do we change our behaviors when our intentions are so good and we all deep down do genuinely care about others?
What I have learned over the years is that small gestures really do go a long way. When someone mentions their birthday is coming up, I immediately put it in my calendar with a yearly reminder so I don't forget to send birthday wishes the following years. When someone mentions an important date, I put that in my calendar too so that I can easily follow up. If someone does not have family nearby to celebrate a holiday with, I always make sure to invite them to our holiday table. If someone sends an email about a charity they are raising money for, I always donate something. If someone sends me a text or an email, I always respond. If someone posts happy news on Instagram, I always send good wishes, even if I don't know them, and especially if I do. If someone endures surgery, I send flowers. You get the point. Now, I am not in any way sharing this to prove how "wonderful" of a human being I am. I am sharing this to show you how easy it is to reach out to others and make a small impact just by showing you care. If you train yourself to immediately note in your calendar all the life circumstances people face around you, then you will never forget to spread kindness and brighten other people's lives. You will always make a positive impact. For those of you who are parents, your children will quickly take note and will follow the same path of altruism and generosity. I can attest that this will bring them much greater fulfillment and happiness than a full schedule of self-serving after-school activities. Our son once mentioned how he reaches out to all his friends on their birthdays but none of them send wishes his way on his own birthday. I reminded him that this is not a sign that they don't care about him, it is just a reminder that they are not well trained in facilitating acts of kindness nor have they been taught to think beyond their own lives. I also pointed out that although it sucks that they don't reach out to wish him a happy birthday, it is more noteworthy to focus on what an awesome friend he is to never forget theirs and that they are surely touched by his thoughtfulness.
Why are we here if we don't allow ourselves to really be here? What are we teaching our children by modeling self-serving behaviors and not stressing the importance of how to care for others? Is our purpose in life really just to work hard, earn as much money as possible, raise children who will be accepted into Ivy-league schools so that they too can simply have successful careers and earn a lot of money? Is this really what we are working towards? In my heart, I know we all want a happy life and happy lives for our kids. But how many of us also want a happy life for our friends, community members, and even strangers? How far are we willing to cast our nets beyond our immediate circle?
If we act out the proposition that everyone matters (a great directive by Jordan Peterson), our families will benefit, our communities will thrive, our world will prosper. But it starts with each and every one of us committing to the awareness of the positive, and negative, impacts we make through our behaviors and what we prioritize in our lives. One small act of kindness leaves a long-lasting mark. I am so grateful to the mom who sent me the beautiful message, one year later, thanking me for the most basic acts of kindness of merely making sure her daughter felt like she had our family to turn to, while she was away from hers during her first year in college.
Every single day we continuously make positive, and negative, impacts on those around us. You're going to make an impact. You are making an impact each and every moment of your life. Even by choosing to sit out on a moment when you can reach out, just by choosing to put that opportunity in the back of your mind, you are making a negative impact. So, the real question is, not whether you will make an impact but what kind of impact will you choose to make this minute, this hour, this day, this week, this year? I truly hope that you choose the path of consciously making a positive impact and in return, reap the benefits of the wonderful blessings that come your way just by putting a smile on someone else's face.