The young man handed me the receipt and said, “That’ll be $26.12, please.” I slipped my credit card into the slot, thinking, that can’t be right.
Seconds later, he handed me my bag and thanked me. I didn’t move. Other people on line were a little agitated, waiting for me to get on with it, already.
“You only charged me for one pair of gloves. There are two of them.”
The kid opened the bag. Sure enough, two pairs.
“Let’s do it,” I said, ignoring the people behind me in line.
He quickly ran the second pair, I paid, pocketed the receipt and turned to leave.
Just as I started to move the kid looked at me with all sincerity and whispered thank you.
The Little Things Accumulate
People make small mistakes like this every day. Sometimes, we let them. When we find out, we can make excuses. It’s their fault. It’s a big company, they can absorb it. Not my problem.
Except it is.
It’s theft. It doesn’t matter that it was someone else’s mistake. If we end up with something we didn’t pay for, it’s just not ours. Period.
A great many people may feel ripped off by government, big business, their employers and many other entities. Not without good reason. However, this doesn’t justify our ripping off our own integrity in small ways that impugn our character just because we feel we’re “owed.”
That isn’t how my mother raised me. She grew up during the Depression. She understood deprivation first hand. Yet for her, that kind of honesty was a statement of character. A point of pride. She would have chewed on shoe leather before taking a loaf of bread. There were nine in her family, and not much to go around. But to her, standards mattered.
They still do. Even if those in power seem to have none whatsoever, we still must keep our personal bar raised high.
How To Feel Better Through the Little Things That Matter
In small and large ways every day we are faced with opportunities to be a bit bigger. Whether this is to remember to watch behind us when opening a door, pick up a dropped item for someone with his hands full, clear garbage that we didn’t drop from a street corner, doesn’t matter. In a world where too many of us are seeking to be The Next Big Thing, it’s the smallest possible things that define us moment to moment. When people are so busy focusing on trying to be Important, they lose sight of what makes them worthwhile. Relevant. Lovable. Worth caring about.
Many of us who grew up in small towns or farming communities like I did haven’t forgotten what it means to have “values.” Values today have been co-opted by big national movements. Politicized. Pummelled into posturing by politicians and pastors and priests and PR pundits. Values are really about caring. That’s about it. Nobody has the corner on values. You either possess them, and act on them, or you don’t. And you don’t have to consider color, creed, religion, or any other designation before you dole out kindness or courtesy.
A new pastor dressed up as a homeless man the day he was being introduced to his nice middle-class church. To say the least, he was treated very badly. When the “homeless man” went to the pulpit when the new pastor was called, people were horrified. Until he reminded them of certain teachings, values, this congregation professed to hold up as true and worth living by.
Values are meaningless unless we live them.
The other advantage of this “small things” awareness is that cumulatively, they add up big time. For each small thing we do adds to a bank of feeling good about our place in the world and how we are adding something to the mix. Not everyone is going to see or notice what we do, but we know we did it. If those acts only matter if people see and celebrate them, then it’s not about sincerity. It’s about showcasing. The more we quietly add to that bank, to the comfort of a shelter dog, a coin in a parking meter, the more we know we matter.
Lessons in Integrity, Courtesy and Graciousness
The end product is an awareness of our generosity, rather than our feeling victimized by a world that can feel awfully unfair at times. However, the more good we do, the more powerful we feel. Funny how it works that way.
The small gestures, holding ourselves to the highest bar possible, no matter our situation in life, are a statement that whatever may be going on around us, we will act with integrity, honesty, courtesy and graciousness. Money does not make us good people. Station in life doesn’t confer upon us any great attributes.
What does make us memorable, in the long run, is the history of the small things that left a lifetime of those who felt better about themselves as a result of being in our presence. Whether that’s feeding a hungry winter bird, making a visit to a hospice, or for once, erasing and not sending that heated overreaction to a Facebook post.
Values are often the smallest, most intimate decisions we make. However, they do indeed make us.
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