A few weeks ago, I asked readers to tell me the small or not so small things they have done for others or others have done for them when no one is looking over the past year-and-a-half of coexisting with a pandemic. Many responded.
M.A., a reader from Santa Rosa, California, wrote that she has tried to do “the right thing” almost every day of her adult life, except for the time she stole a roll of Scotch tape from the office where she worked. She still feels badly about that episode but, now in her 80s, writes that she continues to act as “rightly” as she is able and that doing so “feels good.”
Another reader posted on Twitter that he picked up garbage pails for his elderly neighbors after a bad windstorm on trash pickup day.
K.C. from Hilo, Hawaii, writes that she does “the right thing without anyone looking almost daily.” When she sees trash on the ground, she picks it up to dispose of it, even if she has to temporarily put it in her car on the way to disposal. K.C. regularly picks up items from the grocery store floor when she sees them to return them to their correct place on the shelves.
A small neighborhood shopping center frequented by J.V. of Petaluma, California, recently had cars broken into. Broken glass was scattered in two of the parking spots. J.V. was concerned that because the glass was starting to spread, “tires would be compromised,” so he asked a coffee shop barista about it and was told the landlord had known about the broken glass for two days and had yet to take care of getting it cleaned up. J.V. went home, grabbed a broom, dustpan, and gloves and returned to the parking lot. “In 10 minutes, I restored three parking spots that cars had been avoiding.” Clearly a small thing, J.V. writes, but the right thing to do.
J.W. is in a memoir-writing class that meets every eight weeks via Zoom. When a classmate told the instructor that she couldn’t afford to continue the class, the teacher told her that there was a fund available to help students “supplement the payment” if they needed assistance. No one but her teacher knows J.W. is the source of the funds. “It gives me great pleasure to see this classmate every week … and note how her writing has evolved.” She’s looking forward to meeting the classmate in person someday.
“Just before Covid raised its ugly head,” writes L.H., her husband became ill with congestive heart failure. While his heart has recovered, his kidneys were affected in the process and he now has to receive dialysis three times a week. Besides being her husband’s primary caregiver, she has tenants to whom she rents property. “My tenants have really stepped up during this crisis,” she writes. They make sure any and all repairs are taken care of. “They are the nicest people in the world. I love them.”
These and other stories reassure me that there are plenty of examples of people doing the right thing even when no one is looking. “If everyone did small things every day what a great place the world would be,” writes K.C. from Hilo, Hawaii. I agree.
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 www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues.
Do you have ethical questions that you need to have answered? Send them to email@example.com.
Follow him on Twitter @jseglin.