A Small Act of Kindness Can Change Your Whole Perspective

Kathryn Dillon


Image by Squirrel_photos from Pixabay

Small, kind gestures can genuinely make the world a better place, as I learned one day at the grocery store.

I’m usually Perpetual-Motion Girl at the market, addicted to habitual patterns that maximize efficiency.

I shop with a printed-out list, arranged to coincide with the layout of my grocery store. I neatly tuck my cart out of the way and run up and down the aisles, gathering my goods in such a manner that I don’t ever get stuck behind someone who apparently must read the label of every single can of diced tomatoes before they make a decision (and refuses to move out of my way, even when I’ve asked politely).

In the checkout line, the contents of my cart fly onto the conveyor belt at the speed of light.

Before COVID hit and I started working from home, I shopped on weeknights, after work. I wanted to be in and out as soon as possible, and I certainly didn't want to hold anyone else up by moving too slowly.

You might not think of the grocery store as a place where memories are made, or life lessons are learned, but I’ll never forget that day when I dropped a tub of sour cream in the checkout line.

My efficiency and patterns and careful system all came to a screeching halt with one soft “phlup” of a plastic dairy container splitting open on the tiled floor.

It wasn’t really a huge deal. None of the sour cream landed on me, on anyone else, or really on anything of value. I dealt with it swiftly, as I do most things — asked the woman at the checkout counter for a plastic bag and some paper towels, and cleaned it up.

But it had already been a stressful shopping trip — it was the Thursday before Easter, jam-packed parking lot, loads of people crowding the too-narrow aisles with oversized carts. My inner voice was screaming for everyone to please just get out of my way.

This was not the ideal scenario for an ambivert having one of her more introverted days. And yes, while I generally like people, in some ways, my brain was made for quarantining.

It was chilly and rainy outside, a typical Northeast Ohio early spring day, but stifling hot in the store, and I was sweating inside my windbreaker.

By the time the sour cream incident occurred, let’s be honest — I was cranky, plain and simple. I just wanted to go home.

I could feel hot tears welling up behind my eyes.

Kindness is magic

What happened next truly turned my day around.

The couple behind me in line, having witnessed the Great Sour Cream Debacle of 2019, and likely sensing my dismay, offered to fetch me a replacement tub.

I was flabbergasted. The dairy section wasn't just across the aisle - it was all the way to the back of the store.

At first, I declined, saying I thought the lone sour cream container remaining in my cart would surely be enough. I’m not always comfortable accepting assistance, especially from strangers, and I could feel my face turning red at the thought of it. But they insisted they truly didn’t mind, these kind folks, so finally, I let them help.

The man smiled and took off toward the back of the store. The woman stayed, smiling in a comforting way at this awkward stranger who was speechless with gratitude.

It was a small gesture, but it meant the world to me, and in that split second, it seemed like my heart was going to burst.

Before long, people nearby were chatting about how they’d done it too, and how once it was a jug of laundry detergent that hit the floor, or an entire six-pack of beer that shattered, spraying the feet of everyone around them.

When I admitted it was my first time dropping something in a store, they heartily welcomed me to the butterfingers club.

I smiled the whole way home.

We are all connected

The experience got me thinking.

It was such a small thing. A very kind thing, yes, but small. And yet it completely changed the tenor of my day.

Now, more than ever, it feels as if we're all shoving each other aside to get to the finish line first. I mean, seriously, if you don't think we've all forgotten our manners lately, just drive on a highway for more than five minutes. Or read the news stories about people line-hopping for a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

It’s easy to feel as if we’re all just in it for ourselves, and no one else matters.

So when someone stops and takes a moment to brighten another person’s day, especially a person they don’t even know, it’s absolutely contagious. It’s like we’re all starved for basic human kindness.

From that grocery store episode, nearly two years ago, I went home and was gentler, more open, more engaged with my husband than I would have been otherwise.

Knowing that our moods rub off on each other, my husband’s evening was likely brighter than it would have been with a cranky wife moping around the house.

Perhaps after I went to bed that night, and he went to his studio to work, he was more productive because he’d had the chance to relax with me rather than absorb the tension from my stressful day.

Did I sleep better because of the sour cream incident? Undoubtedly.

With a good night’s sleep, I was well-rested and probably more pleasant at work. I could think clearly and, with a reduction in my stress level, was perhaps more willing to tackle a task I’d been putting off. Maybe I remembered to thank a co-worker, who then took that sentiment and passed it on.

Small gestures can absolutely foster happiness

Such small gestures mean even more during a pandemic. Most of us are feeling isolated, disconnected, and stir-crazy at best. Many of our neighbors are dealing with far worse than that.

Imagine how far a smidgen of compassion can stretch.

“A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees.” — Amelia Earhart

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I live and write in Northeast Ohio, about everything from food to mental health, pets to relationships, music, art, and sports. My articles usually have a personal slant because I believe we as a society and as individuals grow stronger through truth-telling and connection.

Cleveland Heights, OH

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