We had a painter in our home recently. Unlike many, he was punctual and completed the work in a timely fashion. And he went above and beyond the call of duty, filling in little nail holes in the hallways and, when the plaster fell from our porch ceiling in a middle of the night with a resounding crash (due to some overzealous power washers!) he filled it in the next day. He was friendly and accommodating and never complained (and his prices were reasonable).

As they say, “It was a pleasure doing business with him” and I happily handed him a bottle of wine from our closet as an extra token of our appreciation.

In reflecting on the situation, I mused to my husband how a little kindness goes such a long way. It made the whole experience of turning the house upside down to paint so much easier and pleasant. It wasn’t difficult to have him in the house. He actually enhanced my experience of the day. Not by doing anything spectacular. Mostly by just being friendly and accommodating – it seems like it would be so easy to make a difference in all of our lives by following that strategy.

As the Torah says, mitzvah goreret mitzvah, one mitzvah leads to another; his friendliness leads me to be friendly to others (I confess to sometimes needing a push!) and so it goes.

Unfortunately the opposite is also true. Nastiness begets nastiness. People are rude or unpleasant to us and we tend to respond in kind (even though we may come to regret it later). My daughter recently moved across the country (careful readers may note a family theme). The movers couldn’t have been more unpleasant. First they refused to load the boxes in the labeled rooms. They threw them around and damaged many items including an expensive dining room table, all the while refusing to take responsibility. I give my kids credit for reacting to the company with calm and politeness and not the aforementioned expected rudeness.

It’s not a new recognition, just one that has been affirmed yet again. It takes so little to make a difference in the lives of others – either positively or negatively. And we get to choose. We can be the agents of positivity or negativity. We can lift others or bring them down.

Since I have avoided grocery stores since the beginning of this pandemic, I place a lot of online orders. I recently ordered a bag of avocados (among other things) from a large warehouse store that shall remain nameless. Every single one was rotten – you squeezed them and they completely collapsed in upon themselves. It wasn’t that the shopper had tried one and it had seemed fine so he hadn’t tried the rest (I tried to judge favorably); it was that he didn’t care. I could live without the avocados and, unlike my daughter and her movers, I easily got a refund. But I was troubled by his behavior, by his complete indifference to doing his job well and to the impact on the customers he was supposed to be serving. I was about to go down that rabbit hole of frustration. I was about to indulge in a rant about the lack of customer service these days (okay perhaps I did a little). But I stopped myself. I was affected by that negative behavior and I had to work not to react. But it was still my choice.

Life provides us with challenges, both large and small. It may seem curmudgeonly to reflect on the small inconveniences and frustrations or insignificant to focus on the small kindnesses. But it’s those daily actions, those moments of pleasure or lack, that make up our daily experiences and set the stage for our daily opportunities to grow.

It’s those day-in and day-out experiences and our responses to them that make us who we are. We have some important choices to make. It’s easy to greet kindness with kindness; we have to stop ourselves from greeting rudeness with similar behavior. And even more, instead of waiting for others to be the agents of kindness in our lives, we should take the initiative. We should make a proactive choice to be the agents of kindness in the lives of others.

It doesn’t take a lot – a smile, a kind word, an offer to help – to light up another human being. And to create a ripple effect, leading to many small kindnesses throughout our days and our communities. What a great deal – low cost and high reward!