Torah Tuesdays

Torah Tuesdays: Lasting Effects

I attended a shiur yesterday morning (practically an open miracle), and a mention of the influence we can have on other people’s lives piqued my interest as a potential topic to post.

User with smile
Image via Wikipedia

Basically, we may not think that we’re influential (Who?  Little old me?), but every time we interact with someone, even the cashier at the supermarket, our actions are having an effect.  Even something as simple as a smile can make a big difference. A 2008 study by researchers at Harvard found that when a person becomes happy, a friend living close by has a 25 percent higher chance of becoming happy themselves. A spouse experiences an 8 percent increased chance and for next-door neighbors, it’s 34 percent.

Sometimes it’s something we say, even if it doesn’t seem important. A story I heard once on this topic goes as follows:

A businessman, in a hurry to catch a subway train, passes a homeless man who is selling pencils for a quarter.  The businessman doesn’t realize the homeless man is selling a product, but thinks he is simply collected charity money, so tosses him a quarter as he hurries by.  The homeless man flags the businessman down and gives him his pencil.  The businessman says,

“Oh, I didn’t realize you were a merchant,” and rushes to his train.

A few years later, the businessman stops by a newspaper kiosk on his way to catch a train, and the vendor says to him,

“You probably don’t recognize me, but you changed my life.  Years ago,  I was down and out, and I sold you a pencil.  When I gave it to you, you told me that you didn’t realize I was a merchant.  I had never thought of myself in such terms, and it gave me such self-confidence that I was able to save up enough money to buy this newspaper stand.  I now own seven stands in the city.  Thank you.”

Many times we won’t see the effects of our actions, but in some cases we can, like with our children.  Our children are clearly affected by our choices and behaviors, and they will repeat what they learn to their children, and them to theirs.  My husband and I were discussing how our toddler’s view and understanding of the world comes primarily through watching us.

It’s kind of intimidating, frankly.

But that’s okay, because it’s a tremendous opportunity to make an impact in the world.

Choose to do good.  Make a positive difference in someone’s life today.

18 thoughts on “Torah Tuesdays: Lasting Effects

  1. Very good post! Blake (my boyfriend) and I have this conversation a lot. He is a bit of a scrooge when it comes to verbalizing positivity – for example, “wow the weather is beautiful today” or “it’s sure nice to see you” or “I had a nice time with you today”. It just doesn’t occur to him to say those types of things and when i do, he never reacts how i want him to (“yes, the weather is beautiful” or “it’s nice to see you too” or “i had a nice time with you AND you’re the most amazing person in the world” (okay…one can dream)).

    I know that he isn’t a negative person, it just doesn’t occur to him to comment about those types of things. He asked me why I feel the need to remark on it, and why I am so overly nice to service people (calling them by their name, complementing them, always saying thank you, etc.), and when it comes right down to it, I realized I do it because it makes me feel happy. I like talking to people. I like seeing people smile when someone is appreciating their work. I think that we can all do more to appreciate the efforts of others. It takes so little energy to smile at someone, thank them or tell them to have a nice day and it can have such a great effect.

    Anyway. Good post! I appreciate you!

  2. I also started being more aware of how I talked to strangers at the supermarket and on the phone. I found with a little joke or a smile (even in my voice over the phone lines) it made the cashier or customer service person much happier, and it also made my wait on line more pleasant and my issue resolved easier (ok, not always, but at least they were nice about it).

    Why is the spouse increase only 8 percent and an unrelated neighbour’s 34? Maybe sometimes it’s easier to be nice to strangers than the people we see every day? Not sure.


    1. I also wondered about the spouse thing. It seems like such a small improvement. Maybe because it’s easier to just be “relaxed” around our spouses and forget that they are the most important service people ever? Being nice to strangers in the supermarket is also such an opportunity for a Kiddush Hashem, which is something that goes through my mind when I’m wearing a tichel, or just being obviously a Yid.

  3. HI, Rivki. Great post! when I hear or read ideas like this, I always remember the story of a businessman who was saved in the holocaust by an elevator operator turned prison guard because on his way up to his office in the elevator, he always greeted the elevator operator. The ‘guard’ remembered his kindness.
    It’s such a kiddush Hashem to acknowledge service people. And it just feels good to be nice and have a smile on your face.

  4. Excellent post!

    It’s so important to remember that wherever we go people are watching us and we really have an impact on those around us.
    Thanks for the reminder!

  5. I totally agree with you and also try to be more conscious of what I say and how I say it, either to strangers or to people at work. Yet a reminder every now and again is never bad.
    Thanks a lot!

  6. True true true. Excellent post, especially about how we are role models for toddlers, sometimes when they are throwing the umpteenth tantrum of the day it’s difficult to remember and it’s only when I raise my voice that I see it is so not the right way to interact and change the way I am dealing with them. By goodness it’s hard work!

  7. I make a point of teaching my children to try to be kind to all the people we meet because you just never know what the day will bring or what can happen to us.

  8. Rivki, it’s funny that you posted this because (not like I’m some saint or something, but) I am always nice to service people. (I always remind myself of what a small wage they usually earn for their trouble.) I’m also chatty to strangers, whether about the weather, or a particular situation, possibly because, I worked as a waitress and 911 operator and have experienced more than my share of not-so-nice people.

    It brings me back to your other post a few weeks ago about being nice to your friend on the phone when you had just “flipped out” on your husband. I’m not a mean mommy or mean wife, but I think I need to work more on being kinder to my husband, and not as snappy with my little babies some days, especially when patience is in short supply.

    I loved the story about the business man and the pencil-seller, and the holocaust survivor, too. A great reminder that we truly can make a difference in someone life (or possibly even your own!)

    1. You might not think you’re a saint, but you’re pretty high up there, in my opinion. Even though it’s such a human tendency, it bothers me to no end that the people I’m closest to get to see my less than exemplary behavior. And that unless I fix it up, my children will pick it up (G-d forbid).

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