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Small acts often carry such weight.

As I was walking down the main street in our town this morning with my lively Airedale Terrier Maddux, he caught sight of a man some 30 feet ahead of us, bouncing a tennis ball as he walked. Anyone who has a dog knows how riveting the sight of a bouncing ball is; Maddux was transfixed. The man appeared homeless, dressed in dirty, torn street clothes, stopping to search garbage containers along the street then continuing along, happy it seemed, to bounce his tennis ball as he walked.

Within a few minutes we had overtaken the man, and as we did my dog dropped all decorum, fixated on the man as he bounced the ball, Maddux straining against his training (and my patience) to heel. The man smiled at Maddux and me, a snaggle-toothed grin from a dusty face, and held out the ball to Maddux. Maddux of course jumped at the offer, amidst my protests. “No,” I said to the man. “Please keep it. You seem to be having so much fun.” He smiled again and said, “I want him to have it. Take it.” My dog pranced away happily, ball firmly in his mouth, and me with a glow in my heart.

Here was a man who had so little, and had given me a great gift with nothing expected in return. Not only was it a gift of seeing my dog delighted, but it was the spontaneous gesture of the man’s kindness and generosity that filled me with such joy and wonder.

From so little, so much can come.

Our actions, no matter how small, carry repercussions, both good and bad. Like the butterfly effect, where a butterfly flapping its wings in New York eventually causes a hurricane in the South Pacific, our actions reverberate in ways that we can’t begin to fathom, even with people that we have never met. Because of his kind act, the homeless man I met this morning not only set an example of generosity and altruism, but as I remember what he did, it brings a warmth to my heart that resonates even now, and will continue to do so whenever I recall the event. And from the softening of my heart that he has unknowingly sparked, I will act differently, perhaps subconsciously, in my interactions with others, as will they in their interactions with others, and so on down the line.

The act of giving is not a zero sum game where, if we give something away, we suddenly become lesser as a result. It seems counterintuitive in fact, but when we give, we receive back in so many degrees. It is as though our bounty is restored, our coffers replenished, our cupboards filled, by a simple act of generosity.

In his new book with the Dalai Lama, The Book of Joy, Archbishop Desmond Tutu points to the example of the Dead Sea. He says, “The Dead Sea…receives fresh water, but it has no outlet, so it doesn’t pass the water out. It receives beautiful water from the rivers, and the water goes dank. I mean, it just goes bad. And that’s why it is the Dead Sea, It receives and does not give. And we are made much that way, too…we receive and must give. In the end generosity is the best way of becoming more, more and more joyful.”

So much of our daily routine, especially our working lives, can be filled with thoughts of ourselves, where we build walls to protect ourselves, or struggle to be noticed as we climb the corporate ladder. Our behavior keeps us closed up, like an armadillo rolling up in its shell, shielding ourselves rather than opening up to what is beyond us.

Mindfulness allows us the quiet space to realize our interconnectedness with all beings, big and small. Through this realization, our compassion begins to unfold, where we look at each other not just with empathy, but where we are pulled to an act of kindness as a result. This cultivates a state of generosity and compassion where it becomes our nature to give, rather than simple or singular acts or premeditated kindness where we might expect something in return. Our gifts don’t have to be material; they can be the gift of a kind word, of a smile, of our wisdom. Or of a tennis ball. And, as I learned today, these small gestures can have profound rewards.