How often we use the analogy of throwing a pebble in a body of water and watching the ripples spread and spread, forming larger and larger circles. It’s a way we can describe impact that goes far beyond the initial act and extends further than that which we can see or even know.
So many things in life are like that, acts of kindness among them. From the simplest thing, when we smile and greet someone warmly, we add light to their day that they, in turn, may share with others. When we offer to help someone who is wrestling with something, even something minor, we change their life at that moment and, at the same time, both our own life and the lives of untold others. It’s nothing extraordinary and yet it may have profound meaning.
On the other end of the spectrum, when we treat people poorly, when we are cold or demanding or harsh when we could choose not to be, that impact also spreads. People feels demoralized or hurt, they may become fearful or risk averse and they may reflect and perpetuate the negativity.
Of course this is something that many of us have seen in interactions within organizations, groups to which we belong or even within our own families. In our world of older adult services, we see it far too often in the way that our elders interact with one another. There are lots of reasons for this, of course. Someone feels unwell or diminished and it reflects in their approach to others. Another may feel uncomfortable with someone else whose physical or cognitive condition is different than theirs and they want to separate themselves from that. Perhaps it is a fear of what could happen to them or a fear of aging, but it can reflect in behaviors—words and actions—that are filled with unkindness.
My mother’s favorite adage was “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything.” She was the undisputed master of that, she lived it and was universally beloved as a result. It is harder than it sounds, I know, but so meaningful. How different the world would be if we all showed one another some grace, if we accepted rather than judged and welcomed rather than shunned.
Every interaction is a choice. We can say “thank you” and smile. We can offer a word of kindness or a gesture of assistance. Or we can stay focused on our own needs, our own agenda and remain oblivious to the feelings and reactions of others. The ripple we create in the water of our lives every day is ours to choose.