Reality Check: The Minute of Kindness

One of the email addresses that I’m responsible for is similar to that of an organization far, far away. So, sometimes I receive email that was intended for someone else.

Occasionally, it’s obvious that a message is important to the sender. Messages concerning resumes, grant proposals, scheduling, payments, confirmations; those are all issues that could really matter in the life of the person sending the email.

When I receive a message in error, I have two choices. I can ignore it, or I can respond to it.

If I ignore it, the sender likely assumes the message was received by the intended person. It wasn’t bounced back. But they’ll never get a reply. They won’t know the answers to their questions or the important deadlines they’ve inquired about.

At the least, the sender may make a judgment about the rudeness of that person who didn’t respond. Even if they follow up and eventually reach the right recipient, there’s still a lingering suspicion: “They say they didn’t receive my first message, but maybe they just don’t want to admit that they ignored me!”

So, when I get a mistaken message, I choose to respond. I send a short message to let the recipient know that they haven’t reached the person they intended, so please recheck the address. I also add that I’m located in Nova Scotia; that clearly highlights the error! It’s a brief response, but it’s courteous.

I seldom receive a reply. Maybe my message goes out into the recipient’s spam folder. Who knows? But if I’m already feeling rushed and unappreciated for any reason, then that lack of response enhances the opportunity for me to muster up negative feelings about making this tiny effort.

For example, I can choose irritation. “Why do I waste my time responding? Other people wouldn’t. Besides, they’ll eventually figure out that there was a problem.”

Or I can choose to be judgmental: “Why are people so careless?” Why wouldn’t they double-check before sending something so obviously important?”

However, believing as I do (at least some of the time) in contributing my tiny bit to helping people interact successfully, even when I’ll never, ever meet them, I still choose to respond.

This morning, among my pile of requests to deal with and clarifications to clarify, I found something unusual! It was a cheery, grateful reply to a message I’d sent to let someone know they had reached the wrong person.

Writing her reply likely took less than a minute. But that tiny message, expressing how grateful she was to know that she needed to try her message again cheered my morning!

I know, I know. It’s not anybody else’s responsibility to cheer me or my morning. And, according to choice theory, apparently even if someone really wanted to, they wouldn’t be able to do so. It’s still ultimately my responsibility as to whether I will have a cheery morning or not.

That said, I do think that at least some of what makes companies great to work in, communities great to live in, and relationships work well has to do with small interactions that are done in a kind way.

Those small acts, simple courtesies, say, “Even though I don’t know you, I see you as human, not an object, and I will make an effort, even if it’s small, to make something easier for you. I will treat you as I would, in fact, like to be treated.”

Some kind actions take lots of money, time or resources. And they have value.

But don’t discount the value of the tiny acts of kindness either. The return on your “investment” can be high, even if you never see the result.

Have you been the recipient of tiny kind acts?

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