I had stepped outside to retrieve something from the car, and happened to notice the moon, suspended low over the Western horizon. The sky crystal clear, I could see her whole looming, sad countenance, even though it was only her lower quarter that was illumined by the sun, set hours ago below the horizon. And I thought, for a moment, how indeed sad a countenance she appeared to show, but then I wondered – perhaps she isn’t sad, but patient and calm in anticipation of something larger and more important than herself.
Then it occurred to me: there are hundreds of thousands, no – hundreds of millions – of people whose eyes will catch a glimpse of her this very night, this same moon. Some will gaze, and some will wish they had a moment more, and still others won’t even notice her. But she hangs there, in perfect stillness, perfect silence, appearing sad, or sleepy, or dead; a massive sphere suspended in space, met over many thousands of years by billions of human eyes that have gazed upon her, written poetry about her, studied by her, taken solace in her, been guided by her, and been inspired by her humble magnificence.
It is safe to say, then, that she is a veritable, albeit supremely humble, sphere of influence, whose impact on humanity – even setting physics aside – is profound and incalculable.
This little epiphany led me to another thought, a question, really: what is our sphere of influence? On an individual basis?
When we ask ourselves the question, I think most of us are inclined to think our sphere of influence probably doesn’t amount to much. We might think it rather tiny and unimportant, and that, consequently, our actions towards most other people are of little impact. Think about this for a moment: if we think our sphere of influence is limited to our friends, family, and colleagues, we are more inclined to place our actions towards them at a level of higher import than, say, the bus driver or the gas station attendant. In other words, we are likely to feel “okay” with a brisk and impersonal gesture with other people we come in contact with because we have told ourselves it is of no consequence, to them or to us, since we don’t really influence people outside of those we know on a personal level.
Is that a fair assessment, for most of us?
Now, turning back to the moon, a further reflection: she is entirely incognizant of her sphere of influence. Her action towards each and every person is simply to be. But in so doing, she comes in contact with every person that lays eyes on her, and every person with whom she comes into contact, by that circumstance alone, becomes engaged as part of her sphere of influence.
Oughtn’t we to acknowledge that the tollway worker, the fast-food cashier, and the mall janitor – all of whom we may only ever come in contact with once in our lives – are part of our sphere of influence? And that the tollway worker’s spouse, the fast-food cashier’s daughter, and the janitor’s elderly mother – all of whom we will probably never meet – are also inside our sphere of influence?
When you whizz through the toll and hand over $2.00, and the toll worker hands you your $0.50 change, you notice a worn wedding ring, and you smile sincerely, look him in the eye, and say, “Thanks for keeping the line moving! Enjoy your evening when you get home to your family!” how do you know this won’t inspire him to go home and kiss his wife for the first time in months? When the fast food cashier swipes your card and you smile sincerely and ask, “Almost done for the day?” and she responds that she’s got four more hours to earn her keep, and you say, “Well keep up the good work, you’ll be done before you know it. Have a great night!” how do you know that little gesture won’t take the edge off her day and that, when she gets home, she won’t be moved to pick up her little daughter who’s been feeling her stress, hold her close, and say, “Hon, we’re gonna be alright. We’ll work it out. Mommy can do this.” When you step out of the way of the mall janitor’s mop as he cleans up someone else’s mess, but do so with a genuine smile, looking him in the eye, how do you know he doesn’t decide in that moment that perhaps we’re not all that bad, not all that inconsiderate, and with that little change of attitude, later that week go to visit his mother in the nursing home that he otherwise had convinced himself was a waste of his time?
Do you think these things don’t happen? Here’s a clue: not if you’re not doing them. Herein lies the rub, that an omission is as consequential as an act. One tiny gesture can alter the direction and course of another person’s life, and theirs can then alter others. These random acts of kindness, these tiny gestures, have as much impact on the world around you as the monumental, noticeable kindnesses and gestures you may show toward friends and family. Think of what a shame it would be, because you happened to be flustered or busy or in a rush, if you chose not to smile, withheld the gesture, and they had been denied the opportunity to experience it, to acknowledge it, and to accept it. Inaction is as consequential to every person you meet as action is.
You may think your sphere of influence is very small, but your sphere of influence is as large as life itself.
Still think these things don’t happen?
A couple of weeks ago, I was shopping at a home improvement store and sought the help of an employee, a young man who was outgoing, genuine, and really took a moment to assist me with solving a problem. When I had my answer, I shook his hand (he had a good, firm handshake), and mentioned to him that he seemed like the kind of guy I’d like to have working for me if I were running a business, that he was very genuine, took a true interest in helping me solve a problem, and that he appeared to have a great work ethic. I then thanked him for his help, and he thanked me for the compliments.
I had occasion to meet him again just yesterday, outside of work. He approached me with a firm handshake and called me by my name. And he told me that, two weeks ago, he had been at the tail end of a really rough week, had just seen the end of a relationship, was struggling to juggle his focus between that and college and work, and that my words had really made a difference in helping him pull through, regain his confidence, rekindle a wavering Faith in God, and push forward. (It was humbling to hear this.) Then he said he wished more people would smile and say hello as they passed each other on the street.
I couldn’t agree more. Be that person.