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.