Susan (my wife) and I are big fans of the PBS Masterpiece crime drama “Inspector Lewis.” One episode ended with this young detective constable (DC Gray) telling two acquaintances why he became a policeman. It turns out that a policeman had shown him much kindness during a time of great tragedy in his family years back.
Flash forward and the young officer has serendipitously been assigned to work for a brief stint with that very same officer – Detective Lewis.
DC Gray ends his story by saying of that encounter in his teens with Lewis, “He doesn’t remember it; I’ll never forget.”
It was only a show on TV, but it’s a script that often plays out in real life. And it got me to thinking about encounters – moments in time, never replicated, potential points of magic.
Do you think that, collectively, we will ever stop to consider the power of acts of kindness? I doubt it.
I think there are several reasons for this:
One, we have so many encounters in any given day.
Two, there’s no way of knowing when a powerful encounter is going to happen. I mean, it’s not like they glow or something, to stand out from the commonplace.
Three, we’re often preoccupied, and therefore miss things right in front of us.
[su_pullquote]Do you think that we will ever learn to stop long enough to consider the power of an act of kindness?[/su_pullquote]
The thing about moments of impact is that there’s no way to plan for them. Both parties have to be in a kind of state of readiness. Usually that state is unknown to one of the parties involved, if not both.
Because of this, potentially powerful acts of kindness have gone unnoticed. The receiving party was not in a state of readiness.
In other times, we are very much aware of the need… for we are the one who is needing it! But no one comes by to offer us a metaphorical cup of cold water for our equally metaphorical thirst. It’s not intentional, no one’s being cruel. It’s just 1-3 above.
We often just get too busy and we lose the gift of presence for others.
In the mid-1980s, I was speaking to a group about crucial parenting skills. At one point in the presentation I spoke about the importance of not overreacting. A mental image I have used for many years in connection with this point is “Don’t kill a cockroach with a shotgun.” That is, don’t over discipline. Don’t come down hard on minor offenses.
Flash forward 15 years and I am at a funeral home, attending the wake of a man I’d known for many years.
A man of 30 walks up to me and says, “Dr. Ruth, do you remember me?” With apologies I tell him that I did not. He proceeds to tell me the following.
I’m not surprised that you don’t remember me. I was only 15 years old at the time. You were in our town to speak on parenting and I was in the crowd. My parents took me with them to your talk.
You told this story about not killing spiders with a shotgun. I never forgot that story. In fact, I came up to you after your talk – man, was I nervous – I was just a kid. But I wanted to tell you that I liked that story. You took the time to stand there and talk to me for a while. I thought that was something. I still remember it.
I’m a parent now and I constantly remind myself: Don’t overreact. Don’t make a big deal out of a little thing. Don’t kill a cockroach with a shotgun.
I didn’t remember. He never forgot it.