It is natural for human beings to want to make a difference in the lives of others around us. For all our issues — we can be selfish, greedy, envious, arrogant, proud, angry, and petty — we also possess good qualities. Kind, reasonable adults feel compassion toward those who are hurting, and when we ourselves have been hurt in similar ways — we’ve been lonely, we’ve fretted about money, we’ve made stupid mistakes and been treated with understanding — we’re less likely to trumpet judgment.
Our society, which worships celebrities and rich people, tells us that the only way to make a real difference is to head to poor countries overseas and start a non-profit foundation. But this is a misconception that prevents real people from doing the true good we can do.
Truly, it’s the little things that make a difference: a genuine, kind compliment to another is priceless. A small, random gift to someone for no other reason than that they exist creates unseen, but lasting, impact. And listening: never, ever underestimate the power of putting down your phone, turning to the person who is talking to you, looking them in the eye, and listening. Not judging, not thinking about what you’ll say in response, but listening.
The artwork, Sunrise on the Columbia, illustrates the importance of the little, hidden, almost unseen things. In the big picture, the gaggle of geese swimming by physically play a very small part, seemingly eclipsed by sky, trees, the river itself. But they are what make the morning magical: we hold our breath as they swim by because we don’t want to break that magic, scare them away, impel them to flight. That tiny little flock of geese transforms a beautiful morning into a memorable one, and when we tell others about it, that’s what we remember.
Small things . . . are not so small after all.
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