The purpose of this post is to share a beautiful story about the power of gratitude from Jack Kornfield’s book The Wise Heart. This book has sat on my counter for almost two years un-read. To find this book now must mean I was ready for it as E.M. Forster would say. So enjoy the story without setup and one ask. Consider the positive things you do in the lives of others and the positive impact that they may one day have.
“Some years ago, I heard the story of a high school history teacher who knew this same secret. On one particularly fidgety and distracted afternoon, she told her class to stop all their academic work. She let her students rest while she wrote on the blackboard a list of the names of everyone in the class. Then she asked them to copy the list. She instructed them to use the rest of the period to write beside each name one thing they liked or admired about that student. At the end of class, she collected the papers.
Weeks later, on another difficult day just before winter break, the teacher again stopped the class. She handed each student a sheet with his or her name on top. On it, she had pasted all twenty-six good things the other students had written about that person. They smiled and gasped in pleasure that so many beautiful qualities were noticed about them.
Three years later this teacher received a call from the mother of one of her former students. Robert had been a cut-up, but also one of her favorites. His mother sadly passed on the terrible news that Robert had been killed in the Gulf War. The teacher attended the funeral, where many of Robert’s former friends and high school classmates spoke. Just as the service was ending, Robert’s mother approached her. She took out a worn piece of paper, obviously folded and refolded many times, and said, “This was one of the few things in Robert’s pocket when the military retrieved his body.” It was the paper on which the teacher had so carefully pasted the twenty-six things his classmates had admired.
Seeing this, Robert’s teacher’s eyes filled with tears. As she dried her wet cheeks, another former student standing nearby opened her purse, pulled out her own carefully folded page, and confessed that she always kept it with her. A third ex-student said that his page was framed and hanging in his kitchen; another told how the page had become part of her wedding vows. The perception of goodness invited by this teacher had transformed the hearts of her students in ways that she might only have dreamed about.”
If you haven’t already figured it out, the secret is being kind. Amazing to think of how small acts of kindness can stretch beyond even our own knowledge and sometimes find their way back to us. It reminds me of a Carl W. Buehner quote, later attributed to Maya Angelou, that touches on the same principle:
“They may forget what you said — but they will never forget how you made them feel.”