It’s The Little Things That Matter

As we prepare to celebrate the life of one of the greatest civil rights leaders of all time, Martin Luther King Jr, I find myself humbled as I reflect on the incredible sacrifices certain people have made on behalf of others.  As a student of human behavior, I find people that are free from the common human desire to hoard their resources for themselves or their families intriguing.  A few years ago I read a book about Greg Mortenson, Three Cups of Tea.  Now although there have been questions regarding some unethical use of the foundation’s money on Greg’s part in the last couple of years, at the time I was incredibly moved by the way this explorer devoted his entire life to building schools with the primary goal of educating young Pakistani girls.  I admired his goal of building literacy and peace, one school at a time.

Greg could build an entire school for $12,000.  At the time I read the book, we had just taken a trip to Disney World with the kids.  I remember thinking about the thousands of dollars we spent for 10 days of entertainment which were now over.  I felt incredibly selfish for spending so much money with no bigger purpose than nice memories for my family.  In that moment, I was driven towards making a personal sacrifice.  I decided to forgo one of my biggest addictions in life – my 3 pump, non-fat, no-foam grande vanilla latte from Starbucks.  I calculated that the $30 I spend most weeks at Starbucks equates to over $1500 a year!  Wow.  By forgoing my daily Starbucks and sending the money to Greg Mortenson, I could build a school for girls in 8 years.  I’m ashamed to say that my effort only lasted about 8 days.  Geneticists have actually identified a gene for altruism1.  I evidently didn’t inherit it. L Like many Americans, my family and I continue to enjoy way more privileges than most other people around the world.

I often feel ashamed when I compare my level of personal sacrifice with those that do more, when in reality this is just a different manifestation of the sin of envy.  Instead of wasting energy wishing that I had enough altruism to give up my comfortable life in the northwest suburbs and direct all of my resources to someone else’s great cause, I can stop judging or blaming myself and focus on what I CAN do, and try my best.  I was not programed to live in a hut in Africa, or sacrifice all of my personal resources to some greater cause.  But I was blessed with traits that have enabled me to develop expertise in both medicine and psychology, which gives me opportunities to help others in a variety of different ways.  For this, I am very grateful.

I love identifying other people’s gifts and pointing them out.  I do this because I know we all have a human tendency to agonize over our weaknesses and failures instead of celebrating our strengths and accomplishments.  I also know I feel great when people make me feel special, and so I try to do this for others whenever I can.  

The action I witnessed that inspired this posting was that of Scotty Forester and his friends Abe and Jeep, 16 and 17 year old high school students.  On one of the surprise 55 degree days we had this week, I left work early to take my 3 year old and 7 year old sons to the park.  The boys were immediately drawn to the hockey rink where Scotty, Abe, and Jeep had suited up in their Blackhawks gear to also enjoy the surprisingly warm weather.  My seven year old, Scott, who loves to play and watch every sport he encounters, sat on the side of the rink intensely watching the action in his new Derek Rose jersey from Santa.  Completely unexpectedly, the boy we came to know as Scotty skated over and said, “Hey Rose, do you think I could get some help out here?”  I’ve never seen my son’s eyes get so big as he glanced over his shoulder with obvious thoughts of “who me”??? The smile on his face when he realized he was about to have an opportunity to play with the BIG boys was priceless.  The boys brought out an extra stick and showed Scott how to hold it and shoot.  They then included him in a game of two-on-two where they made sure Scott felt accomplished and proud.  As the sun set and it was time to take Scott home, I thanked the boys for their kind, nurturing act, and made sure I went home with their contact information to use as a future babysitting resource for my 3 boys.  I’ve spent the week wondering if those three boys have ANY idea how much their small act of kindness made a difference in my son’s life.  He’s been glowing over the experience all week, and drew the picture I’ve attached.  I think this is his personal way to “scrapbook” a special memory. 

Random acts of kindness like this remind me how powerful we all are to make a difference in someone else’s life.  I’m encouraged by the fact that we don’t all have to be Martin Luther King Jr or Greg Mortenson to make this world a better place.  I strongly believe that we have the influence to create positive change in the world by doing our best to impact every life we touch with acceptance, love, and kindness.  Even the simple act of holding a door open for a person laden down with strollers or packages could make a difference in someone’s day that we might find hard to believe.  It’s also important to remember that those who act the most “unlovable” are probably the most in need of kindness or affirmation.

So I would love to hear about a “random act of kindness” that you’ve witnessed or experienced.  With all the negative things we see or hear going on in the world, I think we are all empowered by stories of small things that any of us could do to make a difference. J



Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time, Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, 2006 Penguin Books


About Kara Nance MD

Kara Nance, MD FACP currently works in private practice in Rolling Meadows, IL. Dr. Nance approaches the care of her patients with a very holistic attitude that targets the many factors that contribute to overall wellbeing. She is a mother of 4 young children, and often brings her personal life experiences into play when helping her patients solve problems relating to life balance. In addition to her clinical practice, Dr. Nance is passionate about electronic medical records and the establishment of electronic health exchanges. She consults with local physicians, hospitals, and medical groups about transitioning over to electronic medical records. Kara also participates in advocacy activities relating to primary care. As a Fellow in the American College of Physicians and a member of the ACP's Northern Illinois Council, Dr. Nance frequently travels to Washington to lobby for important issues in health care reform.
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8 Responses to It’s The Little Things That Matter

  1. Alex says:

    Kara,I loved, loved, loved the hockey story! I love hearing about kids doing kind things for other kids. It reminds me about how much of human nature is instinctively altruistic and caring, not selfish and mean. Here’s to hoping your son remembers their kindness when he’s their age and passes the lesson on!Alex

  2. geeta vora says:

    You are so right. Believe me when you are at the receiving end of a kind act you automatically become the giver. I remember standing in a store and this very confused man standing ahead of me. He did not enough change and the lady at the counter would not let him take the stuff , because she did not change too. This was going on for a while with both of them looking at various places for some change. I looked in my purse and took out the exact change and gave it at the counter. The man looked at me with confusion and said " but how will I pay you ". I told him next time somebody else needs the change you can pass it on to him. I had read this somewhere . Do an act of kindness and tell the person thank me by doing the same to somebody else. I am sure your son would remember and do it. The world would surely be better place like this. 🙂 Have a great year.

  3. FM says:

    Random acts of kindness sent a message home to me. While I was in the grocery store on the first Wednesday of the month, known as "senior shopping day", I am behind a lovely senior. It became clear to me that she did not have enough money to pay for all her groceries. I caught the eye of the cashier and told her to ring her up and whatever the difference is I’ll give you the money. I was glad she wasn’t buyin a lobster dinner, just the staples of everyday life. This lovely senior was so touched and kept insisting I give her my name and address so she could repay me. I just looked at her and said "when you go to Church on Sunday" put a little extra in the collection. What you give comes back twice.-Anonymous

  4. Many small acts do add up and make a difference. It is good to be reminded that, though we can’t all be Martin Luther King, Jr. or Greg Mortenson or Mother Theresa, we still can make a difference in others’ lives. And the more people who do so, the kinder our world will be, because kindness is "catching." When someone does something kind, our natural instinct is to respond with more kindness of our own. There is a hymn which says, "There is no hand too feeble, as can do service here." I thought of this when my mother, though deep in dementia, still managed to be a blessing to others, just through her smile and good spirits. And so often, we don’t even know we’ve made a difference. A woman at my church came to my wedding reception (open to all at the church). I didn’t even know her name, but she commented how close she felt to me because when she was new to the church, I smiled at her. I guess she needed to feel welcome, and my smile made her feel welcome. We never really know how the seeds of kindness we sow affect others. We just have to spread that kindness, assuming some will take root.Thank you for bringing this all to our attention, reminding us of the power we each have for good, which benefits others and ourselves.

  5. susanhalewhitmore says:

    Thank you for adding so much to my day. I’ve been bogging down on what I’ve lost in the last year, not what I’ve gained and those who step forward to support me.I hope someone will show this to Mr. Mortenson. He is a good man and deserves as much kindness as all of us. Plus he much prefers his time with kids over any of the fundraising and promotional work. I imagine he would very much like your son’s hockey story.Susan Hale WhitmoreSilver Spring, Maryland

  6. Bill Greaney says:

    " So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you." The oath you took to heal is quite evident in how you treat your patients. You are also doing a great job with your blog’s. I have always taken great pleasure in helping other people because 99% of the time they really appreciate your help. I guess the other 1% fall into that group of "Unlovable People" mentioned in your blog. I wish the media would concentrate more on the good people and good things in this world instead of the negative things we hear 24-7. Don’t forget, I want to be at the big celebration when you write your first book.Bill Greaney

  7. How To Be Healthy Kara Nance MD says:

    <html><head></head><body bgcolor="#FFFFFF"><div>Thank you Bill, and to everyone else commenting this time around. Your support means so much! :-)<br><br>Kara Nance<div><a href=""></a></div><div><a href=""></a></div><div><br></div></div><div><br></div></body></html&gt;

  8. Tinniam V Ganesh says:

    Great post. I remember reading a post in HBR where the author mentions that we need to measure our life by the influence we have on other’s lives

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