I was valiantly trying to get off my tech and get productive for the day. I was just about to set my phone down when I noticed another West Jet Above and Beyond story. It was one I’d seen before so you’d think I would have ignored it. For some reason, I had one of my connect the dot moments, where my world momentarily gets fuzzy, heart beats a little faster, chest feels tight and the butterflies in my stomach flutter awake. The symptoms sound like a panic attack, but the differences are subtle and those differences mean instead of feeling anxiety and like I should run for my life I feel excitement, anticipation. It hasn’t been lost on me that there is an incredibly fine line between excited anticipation and abject terror. But I digress.

The description on the Facebook post is what did it.

“It’s remarkable how a simple act of kindness toward others changed Josh’s world. Even more remarkable is the profound impact it had on every single person around him.”

Little things that result in something profound.

By the time I reached high school I had become fairly adept at discerning exactly what a teacher wanted and then proceeding to produce it. After years of hating school, experiencing bullying, I had finally found a school and reached a time where I was at peace and could enjoy life.

I had one teacher in particular that I dreaded. He was gruff and a little mean.  While I enjoyed the material in his class, I would rather have gone miles out of my way to avoid him. He was a man who always looked angry and had a way of making students feel insignificant and incompetent. In the hallway you were invisible, unless you were in his way.  At least that’s how it seemed to me.

Our school had one hallway in particular that was frantically busy in the morning, and I met this particular teacher in the rush, every single day. At first I tried my best to get as far away from him as possible. I remember the tension avoiding him seemed to cause within me. After avoiding him yet again, I decided I’d had enough. I wasn’t going to let my fear do this to me anymore.  Eleanor Roosevelt sums it up pretty well.

“Courage is more exhilarating than fear and in the long run it is easier. We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it is not as dreadful as it appeared, discovering we have the strength to stare it down.”  Eleanor Roosevelt

The next morning instead of moving to the opposite wall, I walked towards Mr. M.  so we would pass directly by each other. As I approached I put a big smile on my face and said as brightly as I could, “Good morning Mr. M.” No reaction, but I turned as we passed each other and noticed he paused ever so slightly and glanced back. In truth, my smile and good morning were likely quite noticeably forced. I admit, it didn’t come naturally but as I rushed to class I noticed something. I had two distinct feelings rumbling around inside of me.

I felt very vulnerable. I had gotten myself noticed and thereby might be “noticed” in class which made me feel a bit like I’d painted a bullseye on my forehead.

But I also felt powerful. Powerful, strangely, for mostly the same reasons. I’d made him take note. I’d interrupted his flow, I’d caused a reaction. And he’d noticed. I felt like I had some control. I realized what I was really feeling was confidence, confidence in my ability.

I decided to conduct a little experiment that my psychology teacher would have been proud of. My hypothesis was that if I repeatedly greeted Mr. M. warmly eventually he’d greet me back. The idea was simple enough but when I mentioned it to my closest friends even they looked doubtful.

Having a goal, a purpose motivated me. Every morning I kept to the same schedule that would put me face to face with my teacher. Every morning I smiled and said, “Good Morning!” as I looked him directly in the eye. It took a few days but eventually he replied with a quick, gruff “Morning,” as he skillfully navigated the sea of students. My friends were thunderstruck. I was thrilled. As time went on my smile and good morning became sincere. It was a habit, but I also realized that now that I didn’t have the same fear, I sincerely was enjoying a good morning and actually hoped he was too. I don’t remember how long it was before I decided one morning to break the routine. Mr. M. cruised right by me. No good morning, but I was pretty sure I detected a slight nod. He’d definitely looked my way.

The next morning I ensured I smiled and cheerily said, “Good Morning Mr. M” and continued to do so. I began to notice his eyes met mine from a greater distance down the hallway. While his good mornings were still very gruff, there was a barely perceptible smile on his face.

One morning as I walked toward class I was running a bit late and was preoccupied. For the first time I wasn’t looking for Mr. M. As I walked along only partially paying attention I was suddenly aware of someone in front of me, Mr. M.

“Good morning J, better get to class,” he smiled broadly. I stopped, and it was my turn to look back over my shoulder. I called back. “Morning, thanks!”

Just like Josh in the West Jet story, my life was changed and so was Mr. M.’s. It was small, to most it would appear insignificant but it wasn’t. Mr. M. seemed to soften a little bit. He just wasn’t quite as scary anymore. I can’t speak for him but a great many years later that experience still affects how I deal with people, situations and challenges.

There are countless stories like this, someone does something seemingly insignificant, unnoticeable even and then the magic happens, the change occurs. The potential is realized. The ripple resulting from the tiny pebble that was tossed begins to grow. When we are changed, the world is changed.

Certainly big events, traumatic events are obviously life changing. But in everyday life, in our own little personal worlds, it’s really all the repetitive little simple things that change us the most, that change us little by little every day. It’s the “good” things and the “bad” things, the things we look forward to and the things we dread. It’s the things we are conscious of and most certainly the things we aren’t conscious of at all. Little by little, bit by bit it’s what forms and moulds us into who and what we are. However, we are not victims, we are creators, as long as choose to be.

Here are some of my favourite examples of small things that made big impacts. Share your favourites with us too and we’ll create a timeless list that will inspire and empower.

The protestor who took the soldier a birthday cake in Brazil

Pancho Ramos Stierle, the rebel who is kind.

The guy who gave his mugger his coat and then bought him a meal.   I couldn’t get the audio to work on this one but the transcript is available in the link as well.

Margaret Mead who was a cultural anthropologist (someone who studies the cultural variation among people) knew what she was talking about when she said,

“Never ever doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

If that concept seems too daunting for you to believe,

“Tell the negative committee that meets in your head to sit down and shut up.” Ann Bradford

She knew what she was talking about too.  So go on, pick one simple action and see where the ripples take you.

©2014 Rise Like Air  J. Fries

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