It doesn't take much to make someone's day. It doesn't take much to break it, either.
It's very easy to believe that we're islands, floating along, too wrapped up in our own thoughts, needs and desires to consider those we pass along the way. But it's simply not true. Humanity is intertwined. People are linked, without ever realising it. Why? Because of the power we have to affect one another.
I've been thinking a lot, lately, about the way a stranger's actions can impact on the kind of day we're having. And I won't lie; it started out focused entirely on the negative...
I recently wrote about the sudden, unexpected racist attacks I experienced on Twitter, after saying I was saddened by Britain's decision to leave the EU. The hurtful names I was called, the unfair and incorrect judgements made against me by complete strangers and the bullying mob mentality of those sending the nasty messages all had their own effect on me. I went from feeling as though I was merely expressing my views on social media, like any number of people do every minute of every day, to worrying that I had done something wrong and that perhaps I brought the nastiness on myself.
As the day wore on and the insults continued to pour into my notifications, I also found myself feeling cornered, scared and somehow other.
And don't even get me started on how STUPID racism is in the first place...
Did the people sending the insults stop to think about how I might feel to receive them? Almost certainly not. But that didn't alter the effect.
Contrast that with another encounter on Twitter in the past week...
I'd been a bit low, for various reasons, but I'd been using social media relatively normally. So, I was surprised to receive a message from someone , simply asking if I was alright, because I didn't seem my usual self.
Someone had taken the time out of their day to contact me, based on nothing but the tone of my tweets, which had led them to wonder if I was okay. They didn't have to ask. They could have carried on scrolling. But they made the choice to check in and see if I was alright. And that tiny action on their part completely changed the course of my day. I felt valid. I felt cared about. I felt better, just for knowing that someone gave a damn.
That tiny event changed my whole way of thinking. It made me realise that whilst we can break a person's day, or sour their mood with our thoughtlessness, we can also bring a bit of sunshine to a total stranger, just by trying to be nice.
When we reach out to someone we don't know, we're not doing it because we're duty bound by friendship or relation. We're not doing it because we expect anything back from them (or at least, we shouldn't be). When we reach out to someone we don't know - when we offer a stranger a little kindness, or we help out someone in need - we're doing it just because it's a nice, kind thing to do.
How many times have you overheard someone struggling to find change for the car park? How often do you notice someone on social media, saying they feel low and need a friend? Be honest: how often do you walk by, or carry on scrolling?
Yesterday, I was in London, visiting my sister. We popped to ASDA and my sister went to the in-store opticians,to buy a glasses repair kit. As she reached the counter, she handed over her debit card, only to be told that the machine wasn't working. I wasn't with her at the time and my sister hadn't brought any change with her. She said she'd wait for me to join her, apologising to the staff member who'd rung her single item through the till. But as I arrived, a man, upon hearing that the kit was only £2, took out his wallet and handed a coin to my sister.
It was, in reality, a tiny, trivial act (and as it turned out, my Mum appeared with £2, so the man didn't have to part company with his cash after all), but all three of us - my Mum, my sister and I - were still talking about the kindness of that man as we finished the rest of our shopping and left the supermarket.
It takes next to nothing to do something kind for another person. But we never know how doing so will affect them.
It takes very little effort to do something cruel towards another person. And too often, we don't even think about how doing so will affect them.
We have a choice, every day, as to whether or not we reach out to our fellow humans. And we have a choice as to what kind of interaction that will be.
Having experienced both, I have resolved to try to reach out a hand of friendship and never a hand of hostility.
It doesn't take much to reach out with kindness. But you just might make a person's day.
We are not islands, floating around entirely isolated. We are all linked, as we make our journeys through life. And reaching out to another person, to offer just a little support along the way, can truly lighten the load.
Give it a try.