Sunday, March 26, 2023
March 26, 2023

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Press Talk: Kind gestures, big results

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Could kind gestures change the world?

I’m raising this question because of an email from a reader who wrote how — years ago — a small gesture positively impacted her.

• • •

Look, I get it. Despots like Vladimir Putin, and whomever that last president was who tried to dismantle our democracy, are lost causes. Beyond help. But just think — when they were younger and impressionable— if someone might have shown them a small, kind gesture, how they might have turned out differently. They could have turned out to be good people.

And if they had turned out differently, just maybe the world could have turned out differently, better. Now maybe I’m wrong — hey, I’ve quit counting all the times that has happened — but even if I am, so what? There would be no harm in trying.

Of course, I also could be right. And if so, well, there would no longer be any need for my Don’t Do Stupid Stuff mugs. Just listen to Deena Godwin, a tenured professor of communication studies at Clark College for 21 years, when I asked her about small gestures.

“The reason why it has such a huge impact on someone who’s receiving it is because they are being seen as an individual. So when somebody does a … gesture and that person who is receiving it is like ‘Woah, they see me?’”

• • •

Now back to that email I received. It came from Tanna Engdahl, spiritual leader with the Cowlitz Tribe. She was thanking me for the last column I wrote. Sure, I love hearing that, but that’s not what struck me. In that email she told me about a small gesture she received … five years ago!

She had decided to come to my community retirement party (has it been that long?) held at The Columbian.

“I attended your retirement party and thanked you personally for your columns, which always added a brightness to my day. I was nervous but tried not to show it because I wore my Cowlitz Elder vest into the ‘lion’s den.’”

OK, a bit of context is needed here about the “lion’s den” usage. The Cowlitz Tribe put up the ilani casino and The Columbian’s Editorial Board — which I was part of — wrote many editorials opposing its present location.

But something happened at my retirement party. Something I wasn’t aware of until just now. A small gesture.

“Tom Vogt, that dear person, held the door open for me. It … meant more than he will ever know, to have the door held open for a Cowlitz tribal member,” Engdahl said.

Vogt, now retired, worked as a reporter for many years at The Columbian. He and several other reporters were on hand to help out. So when Vogt held that door open he likely didn’t think much about it. No big deal.

But it was.

• • •

Small gestures. We might not even realize how important just a smile or a “good morning” or holding the door open might be to someone when we cross paths.

I asked Godwin if everyone in the world began offering simple, small gestures, what kind of an impact it might have.

“That is a really big question,” she said. She tried to answer it by relating it to a serious problem in our society today.

“So often we see mass shootings from people who are struggling with mental health, but when you get down to the core of it, they haven’t been recognized or seen as a person. If we all were living with a purpose of making sure people are seen and recognized and valued I think we as a society would be happier.

“What that would cost us is our getting out of our own way, getting out of our own head, and getting to a point where we aren’t deeming ourselves to be the very most important.”

Godwin said it didn’t surprise her at all that a small gesture like holding the door open would have a positive impact for Engdahl.

“So often (tribal members) aren’t seen as individuals. Our society as a whole sees the Indigenous population as a monolith. And when they are treated with respect and value, they do take note of that.”

• • •

So here’s my challenge. In the upcoming week, offer someone a kind gesture. It could be a passerby or fellow shopper in a grocery store. Offer them a kind gesture. Maybe just smile or nod your head. If you know someone you happen to disagree with, seek them out. No need to settle your disagreement. Just offer them a kind gesture.

You have everything to gain.

And maybe — just maybe — if we unleash kind gestures to everyone— our future leaders will turn out to be better people.