The Meaning of Life

Nothing like tackling something light on a Sunday evening, eh?

Well, ok, much as I might like to think I know the meaning of life, I can’t really provide the answer here (at least, I don’t think I can).  But I can share with you my thoughts on the subject.  To me, the most significant thing we can do during our time on this planet is to have a positive connection with another person.  That’s it.

This can be in big things, like supporting a friend going through a crisis or caring for a child.  But those aren’t the only relevant examples.  Small things can make a difference in the world, and can contribute to our purpose on the planet.  A kind word to someone in a service position, turning the other cheek when someone takes their bad day out on you, letting someone into difficult traffic, or even just a smile can make a difference in their day.

But what can a small kindness really do for the universe?

Well, maybe that isn’t the way to think about it.  What if we look at it from a different perspective — what can a small kindness really do to hurt the universe?  Absolutely nothing.  Every little nice thing we do for someone is going to have one of two effects: a neutral or a positive one.  The percentage of people who are so tweaked that they will perceive a kindness and it will anger or upset them is small enough that I posit that it doesn’t count.  So, we’re left with the two possible outcomes of making a positive difference, or making none at all.  Perhaps the recipient doesn’t notice our kindness, no harm done.

For those who do notice, we’ve made a very small deposit of niceness into their day.  What effect will this have?  Well, again, either it won’t make much of a difference, or it will make a positive difference.  For which people is a small kindness most likely to have little effect?  Actually, it’s probably those people who are already having a pretty good day already, or those who just generally expect kindness from the universe (and in my experience, these people are pretty happy most of the time).  But, there will be those who are in such a bad place that no little kindness can touch them — or are there?  Isn’t it possible that even for those people, who are in a very dark place, that the little, tiny piece of light we shed into their day actually does make a difference?  Maybe we just don’t see the effect, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t one.  What can it hurt to try?

Most of us, however, are somewhere in the middle.  We are neither so full of joy that a little extra kindness has no effect, nor are we so bereft of feeling that we can’t appreciate a nice gesture from another.  For most people, then, the kindness we give is noticed and appreciated.  The power of a kind gesture can vary a great deal, even if it is appreciated.  We might just smile for a moment, and go on about our day.  But we are changed by it.  Kindness given by another lifts us up a little.  This lift, in turn, makes us more likely to do the same for another.  It doesn’t mean we’re immediately transformed into saints, but kindness received tips the scales in favor of kindness being distributed.

Doing something nice for someone, having a positive connection with them, is then really the beginning of a positive chain of events which continues much beyond our view.  Small kindnesses can have big impacts.  Listening to a friend in despair can give them hope.  Caring for a child gives strength.  Even letting someone into traffic can make a small impact on someone’s perspective on the intelligence and kindhearted nature of humanity in general.  Aren’t these gifts worth giving?  What is more valuable, really, than hope, strength and positive perspective?  And to know that our gift of hope, strength, kindness or perspective might be passed on by the receiver to another, whose day will brighten in return, is one of the best rewards possible.

Go on, do something nice.  Give an extra dollar on your pizza delivery tip.  Let the guy in front of you into the traffic line, even if he is on his cell phone.  Pick up the phone when your friend calls, and listen for a minute or two.  Give someone a truly genuine compliment, even a small one.  The power of kindness is huge and limitless.  It’s the most important thing you can do today.

And that, in my opinion, is really why we’re here — to make our ride on this planet a little more bearable, a little more hopeful and just generally more pleasant for each other.  Hey, we can make it better, or we can make it worse.  Which do you choose?

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