Are Small Things As Valuable as Grand Gestures?

Willie Mays In the Cards Deep Space NineBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

We often underestimate the power in small things.

In “In the Cards,” an episode in the fifth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, everyone on the space station is feeling frightened and depressed due to the deteriorating situation with the Dominion (a powerful force from a different quadrant that wants to enslave their quadrant).

Jake, son of the station’s Captain Sisko, is worried about his father and decides to cheer him up by buying him a mint-condition Willie Mays baseball card at an auction. Unfortunately, someone with more money buys the card out from under him. When Jake and his friend Nog try to buy the card directly, the man says he won’t sell—but he might trade if they could get him the items on a list he gives them.

Jake and Nog go around the station, exchanging favors for the items. Finish Chief O’Brian’s work so he can take some much needed time off. Rescue a teddy bear. Remove the feedback from some Klingon opera. Help write a speech.

Each favor they trade is small, and the boys don’t think anything of it because they’re focused on acquiring the baseball card. They’re so focused they miss what’s going on around them. The mood of the station is changing.  

The people they helped are feeling happier and more hopeful, and they, in turn, are spreading that happiness and hope to others.

It got me thinking about how I react when I know someone is struggling. I’m a fixer by nature, so if I can’t think of a way to solve their main problem or if there’s no way for me to solve their problem (since I can’t cure cancer and I’m not independently wealthy), I often freeze.  I don’t know what to do.

I’m so focused on making the grand gesture that I miss all the little things that would have cheered them up and made life just a bit more bearable, no matter what else they were facing.

One time I came out of a fundraising dinner on a cold, Ontario winter night. Rain had turned to freezing rain had turned to ice during the dinner. I was dressed in a knee-length skirt and open-toe heels, shivering already from the short walk across the lot, and my heart sank at the thought of struggling to chip the ice off my windshield so I could safely drive home. But when I reached my vehicle, the man who’d parked next to me was just finishing clearing off my windows. I didn’t have to do anything but get in and drive away. It made all the difference to me.

A new book for them to read while sick. A $5 Starbuck’s gift card tucked anonymously into their mail box. A funny card.

Every day is filled with the “little” opportunities to make a difference.

What little thing did someone do for you lately that made all the difference? Better yet, what little thing are you going to do for someone else today?

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