The Little Things: Should They Count?


“Maybe my expectations of my fellows have been reduced to so base a level that the smallest kindness overwhelms me…I am amazed when I drop a glove in the street and a teenager runs two blocks to return it. I am amazed when a checkout girl flashes me a wide smile with my change, though my own face had been a mask of expedience. Lost wallets posted to their owners, strangers who furnish meticulous directions, neighbors who water each other’s houseplants — these things amaze me.” -Lionel Shriver

When someone smiles and says “Hello!” to you, what’s your reaction? You’re probably like, “Wow, that guy/girl is super nice.” The fact that they took the time to greet you brightened your day. It probably made you smile and think that the world is a better place. Maybe you started skipping and singing a happy tune. Fed some baby deer along the way, perhaps. I’m certain there was a bit of frolicking involved.

It makes you feel good when someone gives you a genuine greeting or does something small that makes you smile. It gives you that warm, toasty feeling inside.

But let’s think about this for a second. Why does this kind of stuff make us happy? Why is it that we think the little things are fantastic? What’s behind our deep admiration for these small acts of goodness? Some fine questions, indeed.

I think I have the answer, though. It’s why I’ve chosen the kwote you see above.

We think the little things count for so much because they’re so rare. We experience real kindness so little that, when do experience it, we think it’s a lot bigger than it actually is.

I know, this is a Debbie-downer, pessimistic view; the smallest acts of kindness are so impressive in comparison with the vat of assholes that is humanity. I don’t like it, but it’s true.

The general expectation of niceness in people is so low that any kind gesture is viewed as an insane act of charity. Holding the door for a few folks becomes buying them all lunches. Giving someone a genuine smile becomes giving them fifty dollars from your own wallet.

Sure, these are nice gestures. The small stuff makes us all feel better. As many people say, it’s the little things that count.

But should they count? Should they be worth the value that we put on them? Should we see the little things as big?

No, we shouldn’t.

For the amount of effort the little things take, they make people way happier than they should. Holding the door involves standing and moving your arm about a foot. Smiling requires moving a few tiny muscles in your face. Yes, these are good things that should make people say, “Hey, what a nice guy.” But don’t kid yourself. This stuff isn’t heavy lifting.

The little things are nice. This I can’t deny. But, at the end of the day, the little things are, well, little. They aren’t big, so we shouldn’t treat them that way.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’ll take the small stuff all day. I do appreciate the people who can muster up the kindness to do the little things. I try my best to do the same. All I’m saying is that being nice isn’t hard, and the fact that we think tiny displays of kindness mean the world speaks to the nature of our fellow humanoids.

But what do I know? I’m interested to hear what you have to say. Do you think the little things should count for as much as people give them credit for? Or are you on my side? Do you feel like the little stuff shouldn’t have as much value as it does?

I kindly ask you for your input. I’m open to your world-views and insights.

Be nice. Be kind. Try some big stuff on for size.

End Kwote

2 thoughts on “The Little Things: Should They Count?

  1. I think it’s partially that the little things are somewhat automatic and as such, carry a level of authenticity for the person that lets us know them,l and who they are just a little bit. Sure a person can smile for the camera or the crowd all the time and we say that persons nice. But when that smile or small kindness is for you alone, it suggests that this person IS kind or thoughtful to everyone. That it’s inherent to their very nature. When we come in contact with genuinely kind people, it’s natural to have our moods lifted. Science shoes that being around happiness or positivity directly lifts our spirit (and of course the opposite is true of negative interactions). So, a big thank you to the checkout person at Wegmans for the smile that physiologically lifts my mood. It happens more often then we might realize!

  2. This is a very insightful post which I think speaks to a much larger issue. Our society is deteriorating very rapidly. It wasn’t that long ago when the things you refer to were commonplace and taken for granted. Now, they are exalted. In my grandfather’s day, a man held a door open for a woman (apologies to those who may view that as sexist), people said “please” and “thank you”, and children, for the most part, showed respect for their elders or got appropriately disciplined if they didn’t. Talking heads are constantly blathering on about the strides we’ve made as a society and, in some respects, that true. Overall, however, I think we’ve gone backward as a culture and it seems to permeate everything: the way we dress, communicate, interact (or not) with each other. It’s sad and I don’t think we’re ever going back.

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