When I was in college, I performed a small act of kindness that changed someone’s life.
Except I didn’t know it at the time.
One day around my third year of college, I was walking from my sorority house to class. I passed a man in his early thirties walking through the same parking lot. Because I am a friendly person, I smiled at him as we passed each other.
What I didn’t know at the time was that this man was at the end of his rope. He had traveled from Thailand, leaving his family behind, to study for his PhD in the United States. He missed his family, he wasn’t making new friends and he needed to find a job. He was on his way to yet another interview when he passed me. The interview was actually at my own sorority house, to work there as a houseman.
As he told my sorority sisters several months later, that smile changed everything. One person had been kind to him. He felt a sense of renewed hope and encouragement. He aced the interview, got the job, went on to get his PhD and then returned home to join his family, later becoming the President of a prestigious university. For years afterward, he sent me an annual card to say thank you and wish me well.
Now this is not a story about how fabulous a person I am. I didn’t even know that I had made an impact on this man at the time. When I found out, I was actually a little uncomfortable and felt undeserving of his gratitude, as my gesture was so small.
But that’s the point.
We often don’t know how the actions we take affect others, like ripples spreading out in a pool of water. Just as a mean driver on the freeway can ruin your day, maybe a random smile you flash at an unhappy stranger could be enough to change their outlook.
Did someone ever make a small gesture that meant the world to you, even if they didn’t know it? Try paying someone an unexpected compliment, opening a door for an elderly person, or smiling at a stranger you pass on the street. You never may know the benefits that a tiny act of kindness can bring.