COMMENTARY: Making a Difference – Being Nice & Talking to People

What can be more meaningful and fulfilling than making a positive difference in this world by making a difference in the lives we touch? It is the essence of living a life that matter. As the following story illustrates it is so much easier than it we might think and its something we all can do every day of the year.

Marta was a hard-working single mother. When her minister sermonized about “living a life that matters,” she worried that working to raise her kids and going to church wasn’t enough. So, on the bus to work she made a list of other jobs she could do and volunteer work she could try.

Sylvia, an elderly woman, saw the worry on Marta’s face and asked what was wrong. Marta explained her problem. Sylvia said, “Oh my, did your minister say youweren’t doing enough?”


“No,” Marta said, “But I know I’m not living a life that matters and i want to.”

“You don’t have to change jobs or do more volunteer work,” Sylvia consoled her. “It’s enough that you’re a good mother. But if you want to do more, think about what you can do while doing what you already do. It’s not about what you do, but how you do it.

“You don’t understand,” Marta said. “I sell hamburgers. How do I make that significant?”

“How many people do you deal with every day?” Sylvia asked.

“Two to three hundred.”

“Well, what if you set out to cheer, encourage, teach or inspire as many of those people as you could? A compliment, a bit of advice, a cheerful hello or a warm smile can start a chain reaction that lights up lives like an endless string of Christmas bulbs.”

“But that’s just being nice,” Marta protested.

“Right,” said Sylvia, “Niceness can change lives.”

Marta looked at the old woman. “What do you do?”

“I was a housekeeper until I retired,” Sylvia said. “Now I just ride the bus talking to people.”

Sylvia made a difference in Marta’s life simply by helping her look at things differently so the next day at work she went out of her way to encourage others with a kind word. Her goal was to make someone feel good about themselves and smile. She particularly began to enjoy the moments when someone actually said thank you and she got better at it.

Toward the end of the first day of her campaign to make a difference through kindness she saw a woman in line holding a baby in one arm and struggling to keep her two other children in control. She was clearly frazzled when she got to Marta’s window to order her food. Marta said, “I couldn’t help but notice that you are an extraordinary mother. It is so clear you are worn out but your love for your children and your consideration for others is amazing. Thank You.”

The mom’s face changed almost instantly and she replied, “I can’t tell you how much that means to me. You have made my day.” After another moment she added, “no you didn’t just make my day, you affirmed my life. Thank you.”

Marta was filled with a sense of gratitude and she couldn’t wait to tell Sylvia on the bus ride home.

Comments 6

  1. We rarely believe our job is adding value to the good of society. The truth is a lot of people are counting on you to make those burgers the best way you know how, to scrub that floor until it shines, toss them their newspaper.

    There are no meaningless task. There is always someone counting on you to do your job. I was a correctional officer. I was rarely seen by the public, but so many people were counting on me to do my job.

    If a criminal escaped it would be front page news, but because no one did I could hear the thanks every time a child got a good night sleep.

  2. Thank you Michael,
    I have terminal cancer. Many people have come to see me and to my surprise thank me for having been there in their time of need or for some word of encouragement or complement. The astonishing part is that I don’t even remember a fraction of the cases. Two I do recall: A young mother told me she wanted to separate from her husband who was somewhat aggressive and hadn’t spoken to her for weeks.’ I advised her when he arrives home and tell him that she loved him’. This she did. Then he burst into tears stating he was losing his business and hadn’t the courage to tell her. She started to help him in the accountancy firm and now, even 20 years later, all is very well.
    Another time as I was going into church I met a young mother who I invited to join me in prayer. She said that she had just prayer for an hour. I said, obviously you were talking to yourself for the hour, for had you been in dialogue with God you would be more hopeful looking.
    While stationed in Detroit a 92 lady told be the same story for years, even in the same tone of voice. Her husband died young and her three children died in their early twenties. “Why did God do this to me”. One evening I was tired and when I saw her coming I wanted to hide. Instead I listened, then I asked if she ever had good times with her family, instantly her face lit up and she told me of a trip (abroad) to Canada and the good time they had. She left, but after two minutes she came back and said to me “Marie, when I knocked on your door I didn’t want to live any more, but now I do”. She walked away with a lilt in her steps. She died that night and was I so happy to have listened that one more time to the broken record which in some mysterious way I had patched up, simply by listening.
    Thanks Michael for all the help you have given me 3000 miles away in Ireland.
    I have cancer, nearing the end of my time. I shall leave this Overall (flesh) with a huge “thank you” for services rendered. Then, no longer limited by the flesh I shall instantly see the room full of joyful people and angels too, and a loud cheer as I break through the winning ribbon. Michael, I am dying to get there.

  3. What Will Matter | COMMENTARY 918.5: I Just Talk to PeopleMy friend Rachel told me the other day that she was being pressured to change jobs because her family want her to. I asked her if she was happy doing what she does now working in a coffee shop. She said the joy she feels when she speaks to people all day who respond to her soft and kind manners is all she needs at this time. I smiled and hugged her because I have felt that kindness and softness of touch from her myself. She helped nurse me back to good health and kept me laughing and reminded me always of how special I was to her.

  4. Wow that was encouraging to know, because I”m working with a group of Spanish people telling them the concept you just explained. God Bless

    Subject: COMMENTARY 918.5: I Just Talk to People

  5. COMMENTARY 918.5 I Just Talk to People

    Thank you for affirming that what I do counts. I have been led to genuinely find something I like about someone & tell them an affirmation to lift them up. If I see a woman who’s not smiling, I’ll find something to compliment her on & lift her spirit. Or if I see an elderly person by theirself I’ll engage them in conversation. I am sick myself with quite a lot of different maladies for a long time now. So when I do get out it’s usually to the doctors or the hospital. But rather than pitying myself I try to put myself in others shoes so to speak. Trying to be more Christ-like is an ongoing mission & showing Christ’s love is mine.

    When I see someone coming towards me, I try to catch their eye & give them a warm smile. Most of the time the smile is returned & I see a spring happen in their step.

    We should Praise God for what we do have rather than complaining about what we don’t have. It will lift you up & change your attitude. Be thankful everyday that you wake to take another breath & have another day with which to sing God’s praise! Thank you again for sharing your many stories with us.


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