“Did you find everything ok?” the checker at the grocery store asks me in a sullen tone as I approach his checkout lane and start to load my groceries onto the belt. He grabs an item and mindlessly scans it, and looks up when I say, “Sure did, thanks!” As we continue our quick conversation (about whatever you can squeeze in during a 5-minute grocery check out — the weather, music playing on the speakers, etc.), he perks up and seems to come back to life, as if he were wearing a marionette string and someone pulled on it. We don’t talk about much, but he seems relieved and almost flattered that I am responding in a warm and kind manner. “Thank you so much, and have a wonderful day,” he says, smiling, as I take my receipt and push my cart full of groceries out of the way of the next person in line.
“Hey, I think I helped cheer the cashier up,” I think to myself as I walk into the parking lot. At least I hope so. That, in turn, will *hopefully* cause him to be friendly to the next customer, and possibly cheer them up, and so on. Am I giving myself too much credit? Perhaps. Am I going to try my best to always continue to treat others with kindness, without knowing for sure if it will positively affect them? Absolutely.
We’ve all heard these sayings: “Treat everyone as you wish to be treated” and “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” We’ve all nodded our head in agreement after hearing these. We’ve all related to them. Yet do we all live this way? Do we at least make a conscious effort to try to do so?
You can’t control how other people will treat you. However, I believe that at the very least, we should be aware of ourselves and be conscious of how our individual actions may affect others. It may seem trivial or even inconsequential to be nice to someone or to do something nice for someone, but don’t underestimate yourself. Don’t underestimate the Ripple Effect you can have.
The first known use of the term “Ripple Effect” was in 1966. The term is modernly used in many capacities, including sociology, macroeconomics, physiology, and more. The essential meaning behind it is that no action is without reaction and that all actions are interconnected. In this context, all human interactions have a ripple effect. We do not stand alone in this world. Our words, our behaviors and our actions all matter.
Newton’s third law of motion in physics is commonly stated as, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Teachers often demonstrate this law by tossing a rock into a body of water and telling students to watch the resulting waves when the rock hits the water. Although sociology is more subjective than physics, the idea of an action causing a continuous and spreading “ripple” effect is what strikes a familiar chord in our minds when we think about how our actions can have consequences beyond our reach. Our simple everyday interactions can cause major waves in society.
As writer Dave Barry’s famous saying goes, “A person who is nice to you, but rude to the waiter, is not a nice person.” I am often dismayed when I am nice to someone who works in a customer service role and they are legitimately shocked that I am not treating them like a lesser form of life. Instead of reacting to being treated kindly as the norm, they often react as though it is a rarity, and they often thank me for being nice and tell me that people have been super rude to them all day.
As a former cashier/server, I have firsthand experienced the feeling of being treated like crap by a customer many, many times. One personal instance in particular that stands out in my mind is when I worked at Enterprise Rent-A-Car, and a customer ripped up a map and threw it in my face while screaming at me in anger and calling me names after she got lost on her way back to our office to return her rental car, as though it was my fault. That was over 20 years ago and lasted a matter of mere minutes, and I never saw her again. Yet I will never forget it. It’s quite possible that instances like that made me extra sensitive to how I treat staff or service workers. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard people say in passing, “I think everyone should have to wait tables at some point, just to see how it feels.” Agreed.
Sure, we all have our down days. It’s impossible to be happy 100% of the time. We all find ourselves cranky, or snappy, or even downright mean at times. It’s part of being human. However, when I am down and cranky, I find that being nice to others — especially strangers — can completely turn my mood around. Spreading my doom and gloom not only doesn’t help my mood, but it makes it worse, as now I feel bad about making others feel bad. Therefore, there is a selfish component to being nice to others, as well as a giving component. It’s a win-win.
Some of the most sensitive people — the ones who are affected by others’ behavior the most — are also some of the strongest people. Sensitivity is often seen as a sign of weakness, but sensitivity is a form of mental and emotional strength and self-awareness. In contrast, some of the meanest people are also the most damaged. Hurt people hurt people. When people are being mean, they are trying to appear tough, but they are often feeling weak. By treating another badly, they are not fooling anyone. They are, in fact, only exposing their internal weakness. That’s human, but it’s not one of the better sides of humanity. What helps and can even cure that weakness? Kindness and love. The more, the better.
We need to be more conscious of our words and actions and make a conscious choice to treat others with kindness. If someone is being mean to us, the best thing we can do is to ignore them. Being mean back will only validate their behavior. However, I admit that I do have a temper, and if someone is mean to me, I will most likely defend myself, and possibly even retaliate in a harsher manner. Also, if I see someone being mean to someone else, I will most likely interfere and tell them to cut it out. Stopping others from being hurtful and mean entirely is impossible, so the best thing I can do to contribute to a nicer world is to spread as much kindness as I possibly can.
Human beings often feel alone, if not misunderstood, despite being surrounded daily by people who are also struggling in various ways. We, as humans, are not only more similar than different, but we are all interconnected. Unless you live in a cave or another completely isolated location, you know multiple people, who know multiple people, and so on.
Your actions and behavior can affect one person’s overall mood, which can affect the next person they encounter, and the good (or the bad) can spread quickly from person to person. Even if you don’t know a person at all or even directly interact with them, you can still affect them directly and even profoundly. Something as simple as a smile can affect others in ways we are not even aware of. We notice each other. And we feel things as a result, whether we want to admit it or not.
Be aware of others, and be aware of how you treat them. Our actions do not only belong to ourselves. If you can find it inside of yourself to do so, please be kind.