“A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace.” ~Confucius
Recently, as I was returning home from a long morning walk, I came to a curb waiting for the red light to turn green. There stood beside me a crossing guard lady, Michelle Shelby, in her 50’s holding up a stop sign and directing traffic for the school kids. With the biggest smile and most vibrant energy, she said, “Good Morning, isn’t it a nice day?” She made some friendly chatter, and then continued to greet drivers in their cars with the same enthusiasm. It was obvious that her warmth and friendly nature made people feel good. The red light turned green, and as I was crossing the street, I was thinking about her infectious demeanor. As soon as I crossed over to the other side, I turned right back around to thank her for her positive energy and impact she made on me and others around her. Michelle was so grateful and opened up about recent events in her life. Actively seeking full-time work, she confided in me that she had just lost her job 2 weeks ago.
I was so taken by her story because even though her financial livelihood was at stake, Michelle did not show an ounce of anger or resentment towards life. Instead, she embraced her crossing guard duties, put a big smile on her face, and made everyone around her feel happy. That morning, Michelle taught me the greatest lesson that you can inspire others with just simple kind acts. My whole life, I always had this grand idea that we must do great things in order to inspire others, but Michelle proved me wrong. Her kind acts were so simple yet made such a deep impact on me and others around her. I realized that her power was in the pure simple gesture of kindness to her fellow humans, as Mother Teresa said, “Be faithful in the small things because it is in them that your strength lies.“
I so marveled at Michelle because there is a deep part of me that wants to be just like her. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we could be.” I think we all want to be Michelle: that kind positive person who makes everyone around them feel good. We could all be Michelle if we so desired, but what is preventing us from being her? Living in a myopic world view in which we operate based on dualism and separateness — you vs. me, them vs. us — it is hard for us to know that we are all essentially one and the same. God created all of us equal, as the US Constitution even says, “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all mean are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and pursuit of Happiness.” We are not only created equal, but there is no separation among us.
When we shift our understanding of humanity to one and the same, we realize that we are all Michelle and that Michelle is really all of us — one and the same. This shift turns into compassion for our fellow humans, so we act with kindness toward each other regardless of what is happening in our lives, like losing a job in Michelle’s case, because we understand that there is suffering in all of us. The best way to move from our sense of Dualism to Oneness is by placing ourselves in other people’s shoes. I think it is hard to judge others when you have not walked a mile in their shoes. Whenever my husband gets annoyed at the homeless begging for money, I always remind him that we could have been born as that homeless person. So by placing ourselves in other people’s positions, we can begin to make the shift from Dualism to Oneness, planting seeds of compassion for our fellow humans.
As Michelle did so well, the best and simplest way to immediately inspire others is with our smiles. Mother Teresa, who said “peace begins with a smile,” always urged everyone to smile first because this simple gesture will break the ice immediately between two strangers. That is why I love looking at pictures of Dalai Lama, because he is always smiling, which is so infectious. Smiling not only breaks the ice between people, but it affects your own internal energy in such positive ways. When our own energies are positive, it naturally emanates into the world and is felt by others around us, thus inspiring them.
Another way to inspire others with a simple act is by being grateful. When I recently received a call from my most precious 11-year-old niece, Kai, thanking me for her birthday gift, just hearing her words of gratefulness brought so much joy and warmth to my heart. She inspired me with her mature gesture of appreciation. When we are kind with simple acts, such as gratefulness, it also shows that we really care. At the end of the day, we all just want to be appreciated, and the simple act of thanking someone is a great way to do it.
Michelle was also so inspiring because she truly practiced the art of living in the present moment. Even though being a crossing guard was a temporary job, there was no doubt that she took it seriously and performed her duties well. Many of us take the smallest things in life for granted, but it was obvious that Michelle appreciated every moment of her life by presenting herself with such a positive attitude. As Confucius said, “A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace.” When we view our lives and the world through the prisms of awe in everything around us — even in the smallest things — that is when we can begin to live a magical life.
Through Michelle, I have learned that we do not have to do extraordinary things, like move mountains or fly to the moon, to impact others, but it is through our simplest acts of kindness that we can be most inspiring to others. As Michelle did it with her beautiful smile and friendly nature, we can all do the same and become the greatest inspiration for each other.
Thank you, Professor Michelle, for teaching us how to inspire others with such simple acts of kindness. Your lesson will never be forgotten.
By Moon Cho, Creator of Ying & Yang Living
Here’s Michelle Shelby…