The Smallest Gestures

We remember things. The smallest things. In fact, these small things are often what we remember the most.

Like when my grandfather stooped down to tell eight-year-old me to always keep a bag packed because you never know when you’ll need to up and go. I had no idea what he meant, but I can picture his eyes, pleading and wide, waiting for me to nod and say OK, grandpa.

Or from my Army days, SFC Banks, father of seven children with as many women, who told me that a good leader, first and foremost, must always be ready and willing to follow his or her own orders. That the best leaders are empathic, honest, willing to show a range of emotions. I still hear his voice, a soft and deep tenor, a rural Carolina twang. I can see his smile as he passes on this bit of wisdom without my asking.

The youngest of my two brothers, Joel, once pulled me aside to thank me for something I did back when his face was still pimply. Back before his learner’s permit, on the eve of his first-ever job interview for a job at a local video editing store. A position aligned with what he wanted to be when he grew up—a Hollywood film editor.

“What should I do?” he asked me. “I’m a nervous wreck.”

“Look man,” I said, “whoever’s interviewing you, just shake his hand firmly, not too hard and not too soft. Look him in the eyes. He’s going to ask you a bunch of questions but don’t sweat being right or nothing. Just be honest and don’t say ‘umm’ a lot. You’ll be fine.”

The only reason I can even write this is because he told me this story decades after it happened. I don’t remember it at all. Even in his retelling, no chord was struck that sparked a memory. For me, this moment simply came and went. A breeze. My words, to me, were evidently generic.

As it turned out, the hiring manager told Joel that his answers were weak, but his presence—his body language and firm handshake—showed he had a ton of potential. Joel got that job. A job that, in my brother’s mind, propelled him to where he is today. Doing exactly what he wanted to do back when his hair still resembled a mushroom, when he was still growing into his paws. My brother Joel is, in fact, editing films in Hollywood. Ones you’ve seen, no doubt. Ones you will see, too.

Now don’t misunderstand, I’m not giving myself any backdoor credit for my brother’s success. That’s not my point. Joel’s an ass-busting worker and would have knocked it out of the park with or without that shitty job at the film editing place. I am but a pebble on the beach.

My message here is about a particular moment in time that, though it was forgettable to me, forgotten by me, made a world of difference to someone else.

It’s about being mindful with your words. Being thoughtful and genuine. Using your language impeccably with the understanding that even the smallest comments you make might alter the direction of another person’s life. Something you said to someone today (good, bad, or neutral) may make them hear your resonating voice for the rest of their lives.

The smallest gestures evoke the greatest change. No matter how loose or deep your connection is with another human being, bring the best of you to it. Because you never know…you just never know.

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