Small gesture, big impact: Why the little things we do for others mean a lot

Tiny acts of kindness are a mark of good taste.


 

It was a rainy spring evening in Toronto when I found myself knocking on an unfamiliar door to see a group of people I’d never met. Earlier that day, I’d quit my job. A few weeks before, a friend had told me about this group that meets once a week to talk about religion and share what’s going on in their lives. I’d attended similar gatherings in the past, and had always left overwhelmed—small groups make me feel quite exposed. Still, I was worried about my impulsive decision and longing for some support. This seemed like a safe place to share what I was going through.

From the moment I stepped into the house everyone was welcoming. The discussion was interesting and respectful, and I felt myself relax. Then suddenly, someone asked me if there was anything I wanted to share. Without hesitation and with a quavering voice, I poured my heart out.

While I was talking, someone opened the door. The dog barked. People got distracted. I instantly felt ashamed and self-conscious, with an urge to hold my breath and not disturb anyone. Was I too boring? What was probably only a split second played out in my head like a film scene in slow motion. My daze was interrupted when a woman across from me gently called my name. Looking directly into my eyes she said, “I’m listening.” I could feel myself breathe again.

The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention.
This little gesture was so powerful. I’m not sure if that woman knows the impact she had on me that day, but I went from being emotionally frazzled to feeling empowered, worthy, not alone. As Oscar Wilde once said, “The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention.”

Almost a century later Jacqueline Kennedy said, “It takes someone of taste to realize how much words of support and encouragement mean to those on the receiving end.” Jackie used to send handwritten thank you notes after every event or meeting she attended, and for every gift she received. She wrote notes of encouragement to friends who were hospitalized, and letters of congratulations to friends when their babies were born.

It’s these little gestures that separate people of distinction. There’s huge value in them. They make us feel cared about and supported. And as the world gets busier and more digital they become increasingly important. The emails we don’t respond to, the texts we forget, the likes we don’t give, the comments we choose not to write. We have no idea how much these would mean for those on the receiving end. Small, thoughtful gestures help us to stay connected in a world where we long for acceptance and a sense of community.

Every day we get dozens of chances to demonstrate style and class one small gesture at a time—from being friendly at work, to yielding for another car in traffic, to showing gratitude to someone who helped us. A kind look can brighten someone’s day. A hug can bring warmth and strength. It’s these little things that help people feel loved and happy—that empower them to change, to move on, to believe. They’re the things that get noticed, that make a difference, that matter most.

So go ahead. Write a note. Answer that email. Look someone in the eye. Call that person back. Lend a hand, an ear, a shoulder. Be a big fan of little gestures, and others will be a big fan of yours.

 

Follow Lu on Instagram at @uppercasepress.