I have this friend who is doing something pretty major in her life. It’s the sort of thing that has involved a ton of planning, life evaluation, major decision making, consult from third parties, more money, I’m sure, than I can imagine, and lots and lots of patience. It also involves needing to get a package from somewhere else to her in a timely manner. After what I know has been years of careful decision-making and planning, it came down to just one thing: the package. And the company didn’t deliver it. They offered to pay her the amount of her losses, but believe me when I tell you that cost is inestimable. This company delivers millions of packages a day, but they couldn’t get this one right, and the effect of that action is crushing.
I’m sure you’ve heard the old theory of the Butterfly Effect, stating that if a butterfly flaps it’s wings in one part of the world, it can lead to a storm in another. It’s a beautifully poetic way of stating the idea that everything matters. Every action we take or refuse to take has consequences, and those consequences are immeasurable. We are often blind to the large impact we have in the lives of those around us. There are certain days when we can stop and bask in the glow of good decisions we’ve made- graduations, weddings, etc., but there are few times when we know the effect we have on the people not immediately close to us.
I watch a lot of crime television and in each individual show there seem to be episodes in which the actions of a complete stranger can set off someone in a negative way. If you cut someone off on the highway or drop a door on someone, step in front of them in line at the store or refuse to return their red stapler, they will go on a killing spree. Every. Single Time. Really! According to television, and we know that TV and the internet do not ever lie, that is what happens.
What we do not often see is what happens when we hold a door for someone. What happens when we say hello to a stranger? Pay someone’s toll on the highway? Daughter and I have this rule. You see, she notices everything. When she was tiny this manifested itself in a sort of diarrhea of the mouth situation in which she just said whatever she was thinking, which meant a constant stream of noticings. It was like living with a non-funny Jerry Seinfeld. Now that she is older, she likes to say what she notices to the people she notices it about, and the rule is that you can always compliment someone, even a stranger, if you are safe. So daughter will go up to random people as we are out and tell them things like, “I really like your sweatshirt” or “you are very beautiful” or “you look like a princess.” She generally has things to say to women, and the response is overwhelmingly positive. I see what happens to these people when Daughter says what she sees, and it is a huge change. They literally seem to get lighter. It is a beautiful thing to see what happens to a person when they are told something nice. I really think that it begins a chain reaction of good, kind, wonderful actions that spreads further than we could ever imagine.
We are surrounded by other humans all day and we can choose how we act around them. We can wither be so caught up in ourselves that we don’t notice them. We can be so angry about our own lives that we do not treat others with kindness. We can be grumpy or frustrated or sad and spread that to all those we encounter. Or we can choose to spread joy wherever we go. We can hold doors, say hello, remark on beauty, smile at strangers, help with strollers, pay a toll. A person or two might not appreciate it. Who knows and who cares? The good that you do may cause something really big and really wonderful.
As for my friend, she is handling everything with a greater grace than I ever would. I am proud of her and impressed by her attitude. I know that she will continue to be out in the world being good. She’s why I wrote this, because as upset as I was, and angry and frustrated and sad for her as I have been, I realized that despite all that was going on for her, she was still going to be good to others. I hope I can be more like her.
(It did not occur to me until I was writing just now that a youth organization where I used to live encouraged kids to do this for a single week every year. Each day had a theme, and the whole week was about doing good for others and not needing recognition. It was called the GOODness Epidemic, and it was really wonderful. Just a shout out to the people involved there! Amazing stuff that taught Daughter- and I guess me, too- how to do GOOD.)