I was walking our dog Theo one afternoon back around New Year's Eve. Our apartment building is near a retirement home and while walking we'll see a few residents sitting out in their wheelchairs from time to time. On this particular occasion Theo and I crossed paths with a resident from the building. It was a very tiny old woman bundled up from the chilly weather. Still being in a puppy-in-a-grown-dog-body phase, Theo approached her and I pulled him back in fear he would jump up and knock her down. She stopped walking and encouraged Theo to prop his paws up on her walker so she could pet him for a while.
We had a brief small talk about the holidays and New Year's plans, something I didn't really think much of. I was just happy she was okay with Theo demanding her attention and wanted to be polite. When we were about to part ways her face lit up and said "seeing you and your dog has absolutely made my day. Thank you so much for stopping for a minute!" The expression on her face showed she genuinely meant it. What seemed just polite to me meant the world to her.
It's Not Always That Obvious
While this elderly woman made a point to tell me the effect Theo and I's small gesture, I would say this isn't the case 99% of the time. This brief interaction made me take a step back and realize that even the smallest or seemingly insignificant gesture could impact someone more than you would realize (for better or worse).
It could be something as simple as saying good morning to someone on the elevator instead of pretending something really important is on your phone. You could offer a short "good job on _____ project" to a coworker. Sometimes even just having a smile on your face going about your normal routine or having a positive attitude could actually lift someone's day. I know some days when I haven't woken up on the best of terms I'll have the doorman of our building or one of the people in the office offer a friendly "good morning" and my day is given a little boost.
Unfortunately the opposite does hold true. Give someone a cold shoulder, be too aggressive with your waiter (even unintentionally) or have short patience with a client that asks "dumb questions" or is "high maintenance" and you could turn someone's day for the worse.
We Bring People Up (or Down) Every Day Without Realizing It
We all come in contact with people every single day (even digitally). We don't just influence the people we directly interact with but also the people within an eye or earshot. My parents always told me to be on my best behavior because people were always watching. I thought this was just because we lived in a small town and people talked. They meant something bigger though. We influence more people every day than we could realize - more than we would probably be comfortable with. It just takes a conscious decision every day, with every moment, to think about what kind of influence we have.
In short, being a living, human being is a big responsibility.
How do you want to influence people? How has someone influenced you?
“People will forget what you did, they will forget what you said, but they will never forget the way you made them feel”. - Maya Angelou