Sunday, December 20, 2020

Small acts of kindness leave a lasting impression

Several weeks ago, I asked readers to send me some stories from their lives that captured moments when they stepped up to do the right thing for someone else, regardless of whether they received recognition, or to share a time when they were the recipients of such acts. Many readers wrote in to share their stories.

One was Brenda who told me of the time in 2017 when fires were raging in Santa Rosa, California when she stopped into her local Mexican restaurant to pick up a takeout order. She noticed a fire truck from Texas in the parking lot, and asked the waitress to put the firefighters' meal on her credit card, "tip and all." She asked the restaurant staff to tell them after she left that "our town was honored they came so far to help us."

Reader Kate was at her Subaru dealer when she overheard the service desk worker tell a woman she needed two new tires. After the woman declined to replace the tires, Kate heard her whisper to a friend that "there was no way" she could afford them. Kate asked the dealer to charge her for the two tires but not to mention it to the woman, simply saying instead that the dealership was taking care of it. "It was like playing Santa Claus," Kate wrote.

Max, a Jesuit priest, was living in Alberta, Canada when he met a man whose ministry was engaging homeless people downtown in conversation. Max asked what he might offer the homeless people and was told to bring three things: bus tickets, Power Bars and cigarette rolling papers, as well as tobacco if he could afford it. "This I did," said Max.

When Irene was about 14, her 13-year-old neighbor boy yelled to her that his family's pasture was on fire. Irene yelled back to have his 17-year-old sister call in the fire. Then she and the boy grabbed a pile of empty burlap sacks, drenched them using a garden hose and started beating back the fire. Cars began stopping and people got out to help by grabbing some of the wet sacks. By the time forestry got there, the kids and those who stopped to help had extinguished the fire.

Around Christmas time in the 1970s a reader we're calling Kali went to a street artist fair near Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco. She was admiring a necklace made from an old Buffalo-head nickel from which the artist had carved out the profile of a Native American. The necklace cost $15. Kali told the artist she had just lost her job otherwise she would have purchased it. "Here," he said, and handed it to her.

"I still have the necklace," Kali writes, more than 40 years after the artist gave it to her. "I have never forgotten his generosity."

These are only a handful of the many stories readers sent. These, like other stories I received, mostly involved small acts that made a lasting impact on both the giver and receiver.

As we enter the season of both giving and receiving, it is heartening to learn of these benevolent acts, small and large, when readers decided to do something for someone else, to do the right thing, expecting nothing in return. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need to have answered? Send them to 

Follow him on Twitter @jseglin. 


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