Presence, Not Presents

Small Gestures Can Mean The World

We all get busy. If it's not work assignments, it's social obligations, or organized sports or volunteering or household chores or anything else that makes us feel we're getting pulled in all sorts of directions. 

This pull on our time makes the following shortcuts irresistible:

  • Buying convenience foods or eating out
  • Driving vs walking or biking
  • Skipping a workout or playtime in the park
  • Outsourcing life tasks (maid service, yard service, laundry, baby sitting)

We've all used some of these, and more, at some point. Indeed, some of us take these shortcuts on a regular, even daily basis.

There are even some shortcuts we take that we don't even realize we're taking because they don't feel as real and tangible as the list I offered above.

These shortcuts manifest themselves any time you've thought of doing one or more of the following for/with someone but chose not to:

  • Taking the time to send a quick text to someone when you're thinking about them.
  • Checking in with a friend who you know is having a hard time.
  • Picking a flower from your garden to brighten someone's day.
  • Sending an encouraging email to someone who is about to do something hard or who has been working on a project for a long time.
  • Giving a friend a hug, just because.
  • Acknowledging someone's birthday or anniversary.
  • Reaching out with words of congratulations to a friend, family member or colleague who has just hit an important personal/professional milestone. 
  • Passing on useful/interesting information to someone you know might enjoy it or benefit from it.
  • Visiting a sick or heartbroken friend.
  • Having a short Skype session with someone because you know they have a story they're itching to share.
  • Offering 5 minutes of undivided attention to your spouse, child, friend, neighbour, co-worker.
Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.
— Dalai Lama

While the first list may only affect your personal quality of life (physical, mental, emotional, even financial) the second list hits at the heart of our humanity—ours and the non-recipient's.

When somebody does something for you just for the love of it, with no expectation of anything in return, it is very powerful, especially in the 21st century, when we are taught to look after ourselves before everything else.
— Mark Boyle, The Moneyless Man

To say we're social creatures is as novel as saying we need oxygen to breathe. Connecting with others is an important fuel and one of the first activities we forego when our "busyness" has us putting the blinders on, despite its many benefits. 

Reaching out to someone:

  • Makes the other person feel valued/appreciated/recognized/cherished/loved.
  • Makes us feel good about who we are as a person.
  • Reminds us of the importance of celebrating the little things in life; punctuating the days in meaningful and memorable ways.
  • Reminds others of how it feels for someone to reach out and makes it likely for them to pay it forward.

Many of the potential means of reaching out require only minutes a day, but the return on investment of these minutes is immeasurable. In fact, some of these small gestures make the value of most material goods pale in comparison, yet we can spend huge sums trying to make up for our lapses in attention, sympathy, kindness, tenderness.

Some personal examples of actions that had a lasting impact on me: a professor taking the time to talk to me about a program he thought I should consider, a client telling me what my help meant to her, a friend choosing to confide in me, a co-worker proactively offering to lend an ear, a former employee sending me a note to say why working with me had a positive impact on him. 

It doesn't take many intentional days of doing some of the above to make it a habit because, thanks to the "feel good" hormones that are released in the process, the action of reaching out makes us want to do it more often.

We can't underestimate the power we have to add to the quality of life of those around us. Some of these small gestures may be counted as some of the most powerful moments in the recipient's life (and yours). 

Have you reached out so someone today? It just takes a few minutes but it may mean the world.