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We all have influence—let’s use it!

Gail Oliver Cambridge | November 2023

People from my past often pop up in my head and I wonder where they are now and how their lives have evolved. I remember most of them fondly, reflecting on how we enriched each other’s lives. I’m sure this is the case with you as well, especially when recalling a favorite teacher, coach, mentor, or childhood friend with whom you’re no longer in contact.

Knowingly or not, we have all impacted others in one way or another as we’ve gone about our lives. Our interactions with others can have lasting effects, to the point of altering another person’s life path, whether positively or negatively. As Maya Angelou stated, “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Wise words, indeed. It’s vital, therefore, for each of us to be mindful of how we treat others, choosing to act with kindness, whether through such open actions as donating, volunteering, or visiting someone in a hospital or nursing home or through more subtle ways, such as being an active and sympathetic listener or offering an encouraging word.

Being very moody in my youth, I may have taken my friendships for granted…okay, I did! When I was feeling out of sorts, there were some friends who left me alone to cool off; others who pushed me to change my mindset, so I’d cave to whatever it was that they wanted me to do. I appreciated being left alone and bristled at those who persisted.

Over the years as I reflected on their responses, I realize that both types have positively impacted my life in terms of my vibe and personal interactions with others and how I respond to situations. I apologized much later to my friends and am grateful for them and the lessons I’ve learned. Sometimes, it’s through rough patches that we learn more about ourselves. You, too, may have had selfish tendencies in your younger days, but in adulthood, we all must strive to be aware of the way our words, tone, and body language can affect others. We may or may not get the opportunity to correct a situation or to ask for forgiveness.

I was in the post office recently and the clerk who assisted me was beefing to her co-worker about not helping anyone anymore. She said, “The woman didn’t have enough money and I told her she could go and get it and come back. Now, she hasn’t returned and I have to take it out of my pocket. You can’t help people as they always stiff you.” It was closing time, so if the woman was going to return, she wouldn’t make it that day. I told the clerk that the woman was probably going through difficulties and offered to pay. The clerk objected, but I gave the money to her as it really wasn’t much anyway.

I didn’t know the woman, nor would she ever know what I had done for her. It was just a small random act of kindness on my part and that of the clerk—not sure she’s even allowed to do that! I hope she was able to return to the place of compassion she originally extended and adopt a more forgiving attitude going forward. We don’t know what stresses others are experiencing and can only offer grace.

We can begin with our family, friends, and co-workers to influence positive change. Let us be full of joy and gratitude for the gift of being alive to see another day—and be ever heedful of our every action, knowing that people (especially children!) are always watching. Our behavior can motivate them to act in kind, one good turn resulting in myriad others, perhaps effectively changing the course of someone’s life for the better. Let’s listen and sing along to this song for some inspiration!


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