I cannot do all the good the world needs but the world needs all the good I can do.
Do you have a personal “Hall of Fame” – a store of memories about special people who in one way or another have positively impacted upon your life?
I do. And I’m grateful to every one who features in it.
One such is a man I only ever met once; for thirty seconds or so. I’d never seen him before we spoke and I’ve never met him since. And to this day I don’t even know his name.
Yet he encouraged me far more than he could have ever realised and far in excess of what you would think was possible from such a brief encounter.
Even now he still sometimes comes to mind and I marvel afresh at the power of his one act of encouragement to make such a positive and lasting impact on my life.
I also regularly try to make opportunities to put into practice what he took the trouble to do with me: act with kindness and a spirit of encouragement with all who I meet. Of course, I don’t always succeed but when I do, in a very real way and taking account of the ripple effect, he has touched far more lives than mine alone. And he won’t be aware of doing so at all.
In fact, remembering his age when we met in the 1960’s he’s no doubt long since dead – yet his kindness is still bearing fruit.
I’ll tell you what I mean about that phrase in a moment. Let me first tell you about our encounter.
It was the late sixties and I’d only been a teacher for a few months. There wasn’t anywhere near the amount of guidance that is available today and I wasn’t quite sure whether I was doing the right thing or not. I just know I really enjoyed my role and felt as if we were developing some great relationships in my first ever class. And that the children seemed to enjoy learning and were making good progress.
I’d developed a habit of taking these youngsters onto the field surrounding the school building to play games if I noticed they seemed to be getting a bit tired of being in the classroom. I’d discovered it rejuvenated them (and me!) and equally importantly, playing together seemed to help amazingly with our relationships.
On one such occasion we were playing a game called “ladders” in which two teams essentially compete against each other, running over the outstretched legs of their team mates. I can still picture it clearly now after all these years. Remarkably, I can also remember where I was standing and exactly what I was doing the moment ‘he’ called me over.
He was on the other side of the fence that separated the field from the road. I guess he was in his early sixties, maybe older. He’d been watching us for a little while, the way people often did as they were walking past the school.
“Are you their teacher?”, he asked when I reached him.
“Yes,” I replied, wondering if he was going to say they should be in the classroom working. (I told you I wasn’t sure if I was doing the “right things”.)
“Well, you’re doing a grand job. Keep it up. You’ve got a real talent.”
And then he carried on his way.
That was it.
I was pleased and surprised for sure; but you know, in a way, I was more impressed by the trouble he’d taken to tell me. And years later I became intrigued by the effect his words, perhaps more accurately his actions, were still having upon me. It doesn’t take much to make a difference, does it?
But let’s not leave it there. Let’s bring the story up to date. You see, every day I still try to do what he did with me; still do my best to build people up instead of pull them down. And I know others who do the same thing because of how they have been on the receiving end of such encouragement and kindnesses.
How many people will you and I be in contact with today? Face to face, online, on a telephone perhaps or even writing a letter. Each contact is an opportunity to act in a way that will help people feel good. And usually it’s the small things that have the biggest impact, even if, as in my case, it’s not realised at the time.
Finding out and using the name of the caretaker, smiling at the harassed cashier in the supermarket, passing pleasantries with the bus driver. These are all the numerous day-in, day-out opportunities to make living on this planet that much richer. And who knows, we could be the only person who passes on appreciation to these individuals on that day.
It’s not mamby pamby, wishy washy, flaky sentimental nonsense.
Kindness, and being pleasant to everyone we come across, really can make a major difference to the way we live, work and play.
And then again, we could go even further. We could actively seek opportunities to “make someone’s day”. You saw above it doesn’t have to be much; it’s the intent and the action that count; and, in some strange way, taking the ‘risk’ of looking foolish or being rebuffed.
Start off small: just choose to seek out one opportunity each day over and above what you may normally do.
For example, perhaps you could write a thank you letter to someone for some action or kindness of theirs in the past, or maybe send a card of appreciation to someone you are in regular contact with. If you do decide to do that, try to be specific about why you’re writing.
I once wrote such a letter when I was a school principal to a teacher who had difficulty accepting face to face praise. I detailed why I thought he was such a good teacher and a great member of the team and how pleased I was to work alongside him.
At first there was no response and I thought I’d embarrassed him; that’s the risk, I guess. But then a few days later he made a point of telling me how much it meant to him and how he’d never, ever received anything like that before.
Maybe you could invite someone for a coffee, choose to sit next to the person who most people may avoid….the list is endless.
What matters is the decision, the intent and the action. And the willingness to take the risk, without thought of return.
Try it for a week and judge for yourself. And if you feel so inclined, please do let me know your results.
“I cannot do all the good the world needs, but the world needs all the good I can do.” (Jana Stanfield)