I recently went to see the movie Seven Pounds, with Will Smith. I liked the movie though I saw the potential to add to the human karma-drama and the need for an epic reconciliation of bad deeds with good ones. I see nothing wrong with doing good, but I suspect that the human propensity to create problems is strongly linked to the motivation to do good—not that Will Smith’s character deliberately set out to cause the harm that birthed his need to make amends. But it seems that humans are not much inspired to greatness by goodness alone. As a friend of mine recently said, much of writing and music is based on sadness, without which, little would be written or sung. Besides, the sobriety and the impact of Will Smith’s character’s journey on audiences seems limited to entertainment and talking points over coffee or around the water cooler—when the lights came on, the theater was trashed with human concession-stand droppings. And I mean trashed. Good movie, lost on those throwing down garbage as they knowingly nodded their heads in pseudo-appreciation while heading out to continue, unaltered, their lives.
On the other hand, my oldest daughter and her fiancé told us about a small kindness to them, which they passed on to others. While driving down from Northern California, they stopped at the Golden Gate Bridge waiting to pay the toll. As the car in front of them pulled away, the person waved out the window. When my daughter’s fiancé pulled up to the toll-station window, the person collecting payment told them the previous patron had paid their toll and said to wish them happy holidays. Delighted, they elected to pay the toll of the person behind them and pass along the good tidings. We all wondered how long the act had kept going—and we all thought that such greetings were a spectacular and inexpensive way to spread cheer.
I think we don’t need grand motivations born from years of screwy behavior for us to make a positive contribution. I think we’d all be a lot better off doing small tokens for others—and not just during holidays, but year round. This is not a new thought of course, but it is a timely one during our current economic and political drama. We all recognize the cumulative quality of small gestures, though we might have trouble with not being recognized for it. But, as another New Year dawns, would we rather live in a world of the occasional epic journey to right our own wrongs and be known for it or to live amidst small considerations from and to others, even if we don’t know each other’s names? Consider the difference in the environment we create and that environment’s effect on us. Sometimes it’s not even about money, but about holding a door or granting passage on the road or smiling. It doesn’t take much time, money, or effort, but the rewards are plentiful. We could all use a bit of that.
So enjoy the movie, pick up your trash, turn off the phone, buy the ticket or the popcorn for the person behind you (okay, the popcorn isn’t healthy, so make it a small one sans the car oil), hold the door for someone. Light it up for the New Year folks—it just might brighten that dark mood that seems to pervade much of our human interactions. No further evolution is needed, just a change in deeds. It’s a good resolution, and making it together makes it even better.