An Easy Way to be the Person Who Makes a Difference

A co-worker recently said something which made me realize how important little things can be. I told him this short story the day before Thanksgiving:

When I was in my teens, I did a little stint working for a snow removal company in Bloomington Minnesota. One Thanksgiving Eve we had a blizzard and the snow continued into Thanksgiving morning. A friend and I spent 14 hours shoveling snow that Thanksgiving. I’ll never forget it. I sold my Thanksgiving Day for $104.00. But at the time, I thought it was a great deal. I probably spent the money on Metallica records and Budweiser.

My co-worker said, “You might have missed dinner, but I bet some of the people whose sidewalks you shoveled gave you a little holiday cheer.”

I said, “When I left that morning, my mother wasn’t happy that I was going to miss Thanksgiving dinner, and she was concerned about what I was going to eat because all the stores and restaurants were closed. I was in a hurry and grabbed a bag of Christmas candy and I remember her saying that she was sure someone would share food with us. I haven’t thought about it in 20 years, but you know what? I remember I thought they would too, but no one offered us a thing, not even a cup of coffee. All I ate that day was that bag of Christmas candy, which I shared with the other guy. I saw people in their homes and they saw me too. Some people waited inside their cars for me to clear the snow and then hurried by us carrying food into the house. Not one person even said Happy Thanksgiving. I thought people would be happy and generous on Thanksgiving and I was surprised how cold they were.”

When I got home I mentioned the story to Christine, and she was surprised no one offered us anything. She said if someone were shoveling our steps on Thanksgiving Day, she’d invite them in and offer them something.

I think she’d do it. I would too. And I think you would too. But I have to ask… We say we would, but are we paying attention when the opportunity arises? Do we pay attention to the people who do things for us every day? People that do small things for us around the holidays?

These thoughts spurred another memory.

A year or two earlier, I worked at Bloomington Speedy Car Wash, the place where all the heavy metal burnouts worked. We worked there because we could smoke cigarettes on the job and wear our hair long. Thanksgiving Eve and Christmas Eve were the two busiest days of the year. The cars lined up for blocks. When I started, I wanted to work those days, because I thought the customers would be happy and generous on the holidays. The exact opposite was true. The closer we were to a holiday, the cheaper and angrier customers became. Few people smiled, no one tipped, and hardly anyone said Merry Christmas. Christmas Eve was the worst.

Back then, I was jaded and pretty anti-social about mainstream society. But even I was surprised how self-centered people were around the holidays. It reinforced my belief that we live in a thoughtless, selfish, uncaring society. A belief that nobody really gives a shit about anybody else, even on Thanksgiving, so why should I? I’m sure you can imagine the consequences of such a belief.

I don’t hold the same sentiments today. I think most people do care about the people around them, but they just get caught up in their own plans, and if they stopped for a minute and paid attention to the people around them, they’d act differently, they’d be more generous and thoughtful.

You can be the one person who makes a difference.

So I hope this doesn’t sound too preachy, but I am going to ask you to do something.

This holiday season remember the people around you, smile, say Merry Christmas, give a little extra on the tip, tip people you don’t normally tip (The car wash gal, the cook, the Starbucks guy), leave a gift for the garbage man, the recycling guy, your kid’s teacher, drop a few bucks in the Salvation Army can, tip the postman, find a way to let people know you value them, be generous, and if you own a business, give out a holiday bonus.

Your actions can help change someone else’s worldview. That’s how the world will change, one person at a time, one interaction at time, and one act of kindness at a time.

As busy as we all are during the holidays, let’s take the time to be good to one another. It is the little things that change people. Imagine, if one person offered us a cup of coffee on Thanksgiving Day 1986, this would be a different story.

This year, be that person.

48 thoughts on “An Easy Way to be the Person Who Makes a Difference”

  1. Steve,

    Thank you so much for this reminder to BE THE CHANGE this holiday season. I have no doubt that the people in your immediate circle of influence benefit greatly from your wonderful point of view and your faith in people as a whole.

    Happy Holidays to you and yours, Steve!

  2. Hi Steve,

    thanks for sharing this inspiring post! It is so very true, especially during this month. A festive month, a month for sharing with your loved ones, but also one in which more and more people seem to be fighting depressed feelings. And everyone is too busy to notice..
    Therefore, even more a month in which those small acts of kindness can make a huge difference. For the receiver, but also for yourself. In the end, it makes the both of them feel better..


  3. Steve,

    This was a very thoughtful article to start my Sunday. You’re absolutely right – most of us get too tied up in our holiday plans that we do not pay attention to people who might be serving us.
    I also feel this is a broader reflection of society where we have got caught up in class differences. We need to keep an open mind and treat everybody, irrespective of economic status, race or religion, with love and respect.



    I Blog at

  4. I’m so surprised at your stories of no holiday tipping/generosity. I remember doing something similar- digging snow away from my neighbors homes and cars. People were grateful- but maybe because they knew me because I was also the boy who delivered their newspaper, so there was some trust already. And, I did receive extra big tips on my paper route during the holidays.

    I also worked in my grandfather’s store during the holidays, as a porter carrying boxes out to the car (it’s a wine store.) The tips I received during the holiday season were huge.

    I wonder if that’s changed at all. I know my wife and I tip extra, and leave a gift for the mail person, and the garbage collectors.

    Anyhoo, I totally support the message here, and I’m just surprised as all git-out to read about your experiences.

    On a different note, when I was a volunteer with my local rescue squad, and we did our monthly door-to-door donation collection, I did notice that the poor neighborhoods were really friendly and generous, and the rich neighborhoods weren’t. And that did shock me, although it doesn’t anymore. The more you have, the more I suppose, you can fall prey to being scared of losing what you have, because you have more to lose, so the tighter you become, instead of more generous.

    Have a great Sunday, Steve, you and your family.

  5. Wonderful post, Steve.

    I don’t think this is your main point but it reminds me that sometimes we are just not paying attention. There are many opportunities that arise around us, be it a business one, relationship one, or one to make other people feel good on holidays. It’s not that people aren’t willing to do them, but they just have so many things on their mind that they overlooked them.

    It doesn’t snow here in southern California, but I do make sure I say Merry Christmas to bus drivers when it’s around Christmas.

  6. This is my take: if somebody needs help, or potentially needs help, I’m that guy that jumps in and offers.

    The other day I was taking the bus home and there was a girl sitting adjacent to me and she leaned over the back of the seat and through up. I looked around as she did this and was astonished to see an array of disgusted faces. The guy sitting next to her got up and moved.

    I shouldn’t have to feel like a martyr moving to sit next to her and ask her if she needs help getting home (“wasted?” I asked and she replied “it’s really bad”).

    And the other day there was an old guy trying to pull out of an ally after 2 feet of snowfall. This time somebody joined me in pushing…and that really made a difference. That guy changed my world-view a bit.

    I’m going to continue walking around ignoring people this holiday season, thank you very much, but when people need a little help getting through the rough spots, that’s where I’ll be making my difference.

  7. I think it should be a goal of everyone to do a good deed and give at least one compliment on a daily basis. Sounds corny, but when you get into a habit of doing so, it’s amazing how much happier and fuller your days are.

  8. Good post, Steve.I’m so surprised at your stories of no holiday tipping.You’re absolutely right – most of us get too tied up in our holiday plans. You are the best and I`m waiting for more articles from you.

  9. As someone originally from MN and now living in FL I appreciate your story and hope that it helps everyone realize the opportunity they individually have to make this a better place. THANKS! 😉

  10. You would make Ghandi proud. I will definitely take your words to heart this holiday season, and hopefully I can remember them throughout my years. Thanks for making me stop and think.


  11. When I was younger, I worked at, then managed a video store that was open 365 days a year. We made time and 1/2 if we worked on Thanksgiving or Christmas, so I did it about every year.
    It was always frustrating and funny to me that ever third person would tell me what a shame it was that we were working. All I could think was “if you stayed home, I wouldn’t have to work”.

    The other memory I remember from those days were the regulars, the folks who came in nearly every day, and all the food and treats they brought in for us. Steve is right, because I know it did make a difference for us.

  12. Hi Steve,

    Great post. The daily grind certainly takes the focus off what is REALLY important a lot of times and that is to be kind and thoughtful. Well, at least that’s what I teach my kids— I should practice what I preach a little better and more often. Being decent to others is a way of the past for a lot of people…at least what I see in daily life, which is a shame. These are the same people I see at church occasionally, which is really terrible. I am a decent tipper though 😉

    Happy holidays!


  13. You know what, I AM that person.
    I used to (notice past tense) say “hello” “thank you” and “good day” to people, hold doors and what not. I’d say it registered only 33% of the time, if that. Salutations went unanswered, courtesy unreturned. I gather carts in the supermarket parking lots that are too close to cars and put them away so they don’t scratch cars and I get looked at like I’m crazy. Worst, people will leave their carts in front of me to pick up (believe me, I do not look like i work there).
    I notice people talk to service people like they are their slaves, but cashiers and waiters are just as bad (don’t get me started on anyone unionized who works for the city). At McDonald’s, a girl at the cash gave me a chin flick when it came to my turn, like “what do you want” just not in a service industry kind of way :S

    Half the time now, I’d say I’m still courteous and try to say hello and goodbye, but I’m really doing it to put everyone back in their place.
    And it ain’t working.

  14. When I was in high school I worked at a local pizza place. After much convincing we talked our manager into opening on Christmas Eve. We were a skeleton crew with 3 in the store and 1 driver. Normally it would be 4-5 in the store and 2-3 drivers for the business level we had that day.

    I was the only person in the kitchen with a car, so I ended up doing back-up deliveries. I was shocked at the tips I received from people. They would give up $10 or $20 tips.

    At the end of the night the other driver and I shared the tips among all of the employees.

    Like in your story a bunch of kids only made about $100 or so that night, but it really made our year.

  15. As it has been said: “Knowing the path and walking the path are very distinctly different. Almost anyone knows the right thing to do, but only
    the most courageous and generous people actually ‘walk the path’.

    Thanks for reminding us at this opportune time.

  16. You’re an idiot. Most people become smarter and wiser as they grow older, but you have become dumber and more naive. You had it right when you were young… no one gives a shit.

    If you want to be nice to someone, be nice to poor people. Don’t be nice to the rich people. Spit on them.

  17. Actually, I would challenge people to more. I would challenge people to create, every day, the world you want to live in. It’s your world, people. If you treat people nice and are appreciative of others, they will treat you the same way. Some day you’ll be dead. What type of memory do you want people to have of you? Do you want people to remember you as “that old guy who never said anything nice”, or do you want people to remember you as, “the nicest and friendliest person I’ve ever known, who made others around them feel better every day”. Yes, it’ll be an act at first. That’s fine. Give it a month or so and it’ll be so much of a habit that it’ll just become “you”. And do it EVERY day, not just during December! Remember always, it’s YOUR world; create it the way you want it to be.

  18. Shouldn’t you be generous all year long? Last time I checked, Christmas isn’t about presents and money, you are just begging for that. You got paid to shovel driveways, that was your job. You didn’t volunteer. You chose to make money and both parties did their job. Instead of giving tips (which is essentially begging customers), ask your boss for a raise. Do you give an extra tip is March, or do you just want to clear your mind and give tips during Christmas. Stop being material.

  19. I’m sorry to say that I believe you were completely correct in the first place: we live in a selfish, thoughtless, uncaring society. ‘Holidays’ simply italicize the rudeness, arrogance, and greed which rule at all times; the compulsory hypocrisy of Xmas, etc. , makes the bad behavior more obvious, as everyone is supposed to be hap hap happeeeeeeeee and marinated in false sentiment. the dichotomy is extremely obvious.
    Sadly, given the state of the world now, it is not going to change except for the worse. Perhaps the actions you advocate will stave off the inevitable for a while, and, for that reason, they have merit.

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  21. “Back then, I was jaded and pretty anti-social about mainstream society.”

    …so I was really surprised that the people around me could
    sense that and responded in kind.

    It’s called karma dude. Watch some Earl.

  22. Good Morning Steve!

    Great post today, thank you!

    I’m with you on this one, grumpy people during this time of year. How easy is it to just smile and wish someone a good day – no matter what time of year it is…?

    Years ago I attended a Zig Ziglar event and the one thing I walked away with (and still use to this day) is when someone asks, “How are you?” reply with “Excellent!” even if you’re not LOL and funny enough your day tends to become excellent.

    Oh and I would have brought you coffee and something to eat! 🙂

  23. Steve you are right.
    I also can remember different times. I remember getting up early saturday morning. We would jump on our bikes and ride all day long remembering to be home before the street light came on. Different times!
    This holiday season we should kept in mine that some folks are not as blessed as we are. We should remember the real reason for Christmas. Lets all start today and make someones day brighter. Lets start with the man in the mirror.

    Merry Christmas to all

  24. I find the world treats you much better should you choose the do the right thing. Helping folks out on a daily basis make you feel a whole lot better about yourself as well. Don’t sweat the little things but the little things you do for other humans do count.

    Great post to keep us thinking……

  25. Steve,
    I hear you loud and clear- and have gotten MUCH better about this myself. I find that it is a simple act of gratitude to give that 20% tip – and to drop the money in Santa’s bucket.

    If you had asked me 5 years ago – I wouldn’t have said the same! You can probably guess that my bank account reflected my lack of gratitude!

    People can be funny about random acts of kindness –
    a few years back I made a large plate of yummy cookies at Christmas and included a note to my new co-workers thanking them for making my transition so easy. I can tell you that my cookies were certainly eaten- but I not more than 2 people actually said thank you in return.
    I got the feeling that they felt they might be expected to give something in return…

    Thanks for the positive words today.
    Its a reminder to find out exactly where our family will be dropping our toys for tots this year!

  26. Great post. The situation with snow clearing doesn’t surprise me a bit. We had exactly the same when I was a young lad back in the 80s. We lived at the bottom of a 1 in 4 hill and would always get up early, clear some tracks & put grit in them. Took about an hour. The neighbours would watch out of their windows until the grit had gone down, then rush out into their cars & speed up the hill, sometimes forcing us out of the way and often not waiting for the grit to work fully & leaving the road in an inpassable state again. Not so much as a smile.

    In the 70s it seemed different (although I was too small to make much difference to the snow clearing back then!), everyone pulled together with much more community spirit. I think as transport & communications have improved people form their bonds with those further afield and neighbourhood spirit has fallen by the wayside somewhat. How many people even know their closest neighbours’ names these days?

    It’s a shame, but like you say, individuals CAN make a difference. Acts of kindness rub off on others and give them the confidence to do the same.

    I always try to make that small difference, no matter what time of year. We’re all on this planet together 365 days a year, let’s try and make it a better place to live. We humans cause the problems, we can solve them.

    Thanks again for a great post.

  27. Great post, Steve. I always find it heart-warming when people smile and say Merry Christmas to me, so I make sure to reciprocate or say it first when I get the chance.

    I believe that if more people would slow down just a bit and be kind to those around them, the world would be a better place.


  28. Steve –

    Powerful storytelling to get an important message across. We might not be able to change the world by kind gestures – but they can mean the world to the people on the receiving end (and us on the giving end, too!).

    Part of the key is, as you said, being aware. That means slowing down enough to recognize the people around us as… people, and people of infinite value. The people who serve us all year long make life easier, safer, and better for entire communities. They’re generally underpaid and, as you experience, unappreciated.

    A reminder for those of us who travel during the holidays – don’t forget to tip the housekeeper at your hotel!

    Thanks for a timely reminder, Steve. And, Merry Christmas!

  29. As the comments have rolled in I’ve been musing on this issue, and I’m realizing that sometimes things take time to sink in.

    What I mean is that there have been many times when I’ve been too rush, or upset, or depressed or whatever, and someone gave me a kind gesture. Then the moment was gone, and so were they. And yet, minutes later, their gesture sunk in, and suddenly I had a smile, and my heart felt lighter.

    I think it’s hard to judge the effect we’re having if you look just at the immediate results. I say- keep paying it forward. If someone’s cranky, they probably need an extra dose of love and compassion.

  30. Steve,

    Your post was so true, and at the same time, an eye opener. I was one that got to a point that I was not going to give anymore, because no one seemed to actually appreciate it. I have now realized that I must give something to those who earn it, even when we don’t see that action of what they have done. Your point on tipping the cook is a great example. I made a point on my blog as well about customer service a few days ago. I guess they go hand in hand.

    Dale, Illinois

  31. Wow – I love your sentiments! I understand very well how much just a little touch of gratitude can make the difference in a persons day. Even with our online businesses, it only takes a minute to say thank you, your welcome, have a nice day, etc. And every once in a while, give a little extra! It will make you and the recipient both have a great day!

  32. Thanks, Steve, for another great column. I don’t know how much “moderation” you put on the replies but they looked to me like they were running about 10 to 1 for the positive – further proof for me “something big is happening”. Bless you and your wonderful family.

  33. Great article Steve. It is a fantastic reminder to us all about the little things in life we take for granted. Being kind, helpful, curtious, generous etc. are things that basically costs us nothing except for the few seconds or minutes it takes to express these virtues to someone else.

    Yes, I agree that to many people get caught up in day to day living to remember these simple things…but my gosh, when did common manners and decency and simple gratitude go by the wayside? Saying Thank you or expressing appreciation takes but a second or two but can leave a positive lasting impression on someone else.

    To me it makes no difference what time of the season it is, we need to practice kindness all year round. People…look around and find someone to express your apprectiation to. Appreciation and Gratitude are powerful qualities that can transform lives for both the giver and the receiver.

    Steve…I really appreciated your thoughtful article and the opportunity to respond in kind. Thank You!

    See…that wasn’t so hard was it?

  34. I had a related experience just the other day. I used to operate a bar/ restaurant. I read an article about a man and his place. I just had the sense that he could use some help so I made the 45 min drive and offered two large marketing and promotional binders specific to the restaurant industry. When I bought them they were several hundred dollars. He told me his story, new to the business his partner ran up about 90K in bills. He is working a job and running his place. Who knows if he will even find time to read them or implement any thing. I don’t remember any specific words of thanks and he only knows my first name. So wish I him well. I know what it’s like working like that. I will certainly be more aware of my own appreciation in the future.


  35. I agree with Terry, you didn’t want to spend thanksgiving with your family, and you didn’t plan ahead and bring some decent food, yet you expected people to feed you when you were charging them to shovel snow? Give me a break.

    I’m a good tipper, but I think the tipping system is sick. I believe people should get a decent wage for decent work. It’s the whole system of tips that turn them into servants.

    I give to charities all year long, not just around the holidays. Our culture’s attitude towards holidays is insane, IMHO.

  36. Great post Steve! I myself have always thought that it is the small things that make a difference, in personal life, community, and the world as a whole. Its just a pitty everybody dosent believe the same thing. Opening a door for somebody before you go in, saying thankyou more often, haveing a smile on your face, even if your in a shitty mood, you loose your job 3 weeks before christmas and walk out before you punch your boss in the face…. its so simple.

    But then again on the flip side of things [as i know only to well], people who just keep getting kicked in the guts even if they do the right thing, and being nice in everyday life gets them no-where. so why would they want to be nice and do the little things?

    Honestly I think its a word called FAITH. If you have faith and believe in what you do , however small it is, it will happen. Alot of people are going to take alot longer to understand this or to start to give a shit about life, and not just there own. But even faith dose wear thin, if you are like myself and have nothing good happen in the last 4 years or so it is hard to keep your faith in humanity and everything else, never the less, things WILL get better, you know why……… BECAUSE I HAVE FAITH !

    P.S: Please believe me when i say… To everyone who reads this I hope you have a wonderful christmas and a fantastic new year.

  37. Touching story, hope your articles get across others,
    Sharing & giving really make a Big Different,

    Thank you,

    Merry Christmas & Happy new Year

    tracy ho

  38. For me the story just reinforces how we can make a difference not just on holidays but through the year.
    Some people do not share eg visiting a friend who cannot even offer a glass of water.
    Sharing no matter how small does make a difference and the more you give it is returned over and over.
    Thank You Thank You For Sharing
    Let us Count Count Our Blessings

    May you and everyone Have a blessed NEW YEAR Valerie Lacasse

  39. Your post reminded me of “Munnabhai MBBS” an Indian Hindi Language film which depicts a similar concern.

    A sweeper is very upset with everyone who passes by spoiling the place that he just wiped. The Lead Actor goes and hugs him saying ‘Thank You’. he adds ‘When a patient leaves the hospital after getting cured he thanks Doctor for curing him but it is you who should be thanked for keeping the place clean and preventing spreading diseases. Thank You” and then intentionally steps on the place that was just wiped and say “Sorry I spoiled the spot”… and the sweeper replies smiling “Don’t worry I will clean it again”.

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