Influence is something I think about quite often. I thing about those who have influenced my life and the people I've influenced. We most often we use this word to describe the positive things that people add to our lives but really, influence is just having an effect on something.
The mind-boggling thing about influence is that you never know where it will go. If you let someone in during a traffic jam and give them a friendly wave, they just relaxed and smiled. That altered their day slightly and maybe they were a bit more forgiving when someone needed to cut in on them. Liberty Mutual Insurance made a series of commercials about kindness and showing care for others. In the commercials someone does something nice and is observed by someone else who then passes it on.
Unfortunately, this influence can also go in the opposite direction. If I start my day yelling at Logan, he goes off to school feeling defeated and frustrated. He may act unkindly towards a classmate passing on my bad mood and spreading it around his community like a virus that slowly eats away at the fabric of kindness and compassion the teachers attempt to build.
Knowing this, I try very hard to show kindness and compassion to all those I come in contact with. Believe me. I fail regularly, but I do make a concentrated effort to do so. This is part of intentional living. Knowing that I will influence the day of my cashier at the grocery store, I ask, "How are you?" and listen to the response. I might ask if the store is busy or if they've had a good day. One day the store was slow enough we had time to talk about Bible studies and I invited her to church. I may or may not ever see this person again, but I know that by showing kindness I have represented my faith, my life, and my being in a fashion that honor's God. Not everyone is receptive. Sometimes people are already having a bad day or they are distracted. That's okay. If you see this just behave politely and respectfully (both are forms of kindness) and move on.
Showing kindness in small ways usually has small results. Giving someone a smile you get a smile in return, but sometimes these kindness can compound and grow. Smiles can lead to greetings, which can lead to meetings, which can lead to friendships, which can lead anywhere. Opening your home to friends, giving to strangers, supporting the efforts of those you love, these can compound in major ways.
I'm currently reading Ron Chernow's biography of George Washington. Although I am in the very beginning of this massive work, I can already see the power of influence in Chernow's story. The first anecdote that caught my attention was one about Washington's mother, Mary Ball. She became an orphan at age twelve. A dangerous thing for a young girl in the fledgling colonies. She was taken in and gently cared for by a kind family friend, George Eskridge. She recorded that she named her first son in his honor. So George Eskridge and his life may be resigned to the oblivion of historical record, but his namesake George Washington is a testament to the power of kindness. Another example from the life of Washington is the influence of a British admiral upon his elder brother Lawrence, who owned an estate known then as Little Hunting Creek. Lawrence was so taken with affection for Admiral Vernon that he re-named his estate after him. Admiral Vernon may not be recognized in the history books, but visitors to Mount Vernon will remember his name as gracing what became the younger brother's beloved estate.
Do not be discouraged when your kindness is not returned immediately. You don't know the impact your gesture will make so just do the right thing and move on. I've sent encouraging letters and gifts to people and never heard back regarding their thoughts. (This really doesn't bother me. Once a gift is sent or given it is no longer mine to control.) Years later, when talking to the recipient of the letter, I discover that my letter is hanging in their room as an encouragement to them. That knowledge is immensely encouraging and shows me that God will use my work without me having to intervene or control the situation. When you do what you are supposed to do, "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you," you make room for God doing the work.
I don't know how my small kindnesses will be used in the life of a letter recipient or the cashier at the grocery store, but I do know that God is working and he's called me to show kindness, so I will. Can you think of a time when someone's kindness directly impacted your life in a compounding way? Honor them by passing it on.
"A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one."