Why Small Acts of Heroism Matter

Why Small Acts of Heroism Matter Tiny steps toward bigger things

Before you are ready to do big things, you must say yes to the small things. Practicing a shift in mindset gets us ready when things get epic. More on that in a bit.

We may have a hard time putting ourselves in the shoes of heroes we admire because they are making big sacrifices. It seems unattainable. We don’t have the time or the resources. We don’t think we’re brave enough. We don’t want to give up what we have. In our heads it goes something like, “Yeah, it’s great that she’s helping those poor people on the other side of the world, but it would mean risking a lot and shifting everything in my life to do that.”

Often, that’s what keeps us from those bigger, more heroic things. We haven’t practiced giving in smaller ways so we certainly can’t see how we’d give up that much.

But Hero Mindedness isn’t always about the big things. It’s a mindset we can practice every day in ordinary life.

Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small. A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step. –Lao Tzu

Even the small things matter

We notice even small ways that people are willing to help us:

  • Companies stand out in a big way when they have customer service that focuses on a customer’s needs
  • People talk about that time when someone did something exceptionally kind
  • When you were in a tough spot, you remember who came through for you when everyone else didn’t
  • Every day there are more and more creative ways that people serve and take care of each other – and their stories go viral

Random acts of kindness is a thing.

Not only do the small things matter, but they get noticed. Our social system looks for it and rewards it.

Small things can lead to big things

I met a woman at a conference this summer who shared just how quickly that can happen when she was on her way to the same event the year before.

Chandra settled into her aisle seat with a surprise upgrade to first class on her way to World Domination Summit. There was a greater-than-usual traffic jam at the front of the plane as flight attendants struggled to figure out how they were going to get a wheelchair-bound flyer into her window seat in another row.

No one seemed willing to budge to fix the problem in the most obvious way, so Chandra offered to give up her aisle seat and move to the window. She didn’t even have to move out of first class. It’s hard to even call it a sacrifice when you compare the amount of necessary help it afforded for what it cost, unless you consider seat preference a big deal. But there are some people who do. (We want what we want.)

The two passengers who weren’t meant to sit together struck up a conversation and really hit it off. Vicky was recently paralyzed from a car accident and the last two years were an adjustment in learning how to do lots of things differently. At only 23 years old, she already was forced to swallow a big dose of how life can change in an instant – something a lot of young people are blissfully oblivious about. And now she was bravely traveling and moving to a new city on her own and inviting even more change into her life.

When they landed in Portland, Vicky wanted to buy Chandra a drink to thank her for doing that small – but thoughtful – thing. They were continuing their conversation at the airport bar when Vicky discovered her ride was not coming. They decided to figure out the train together in this unfamiliar city. Chandra threw both of their duffle bags on her back as well as carrying their smaller bags. Having her hands full for the trek meant Vicky was going to have to propel herself, cat carrier on her lap.

And somehow they had to figure out where to get cat food on the way. Chandra’s small offer to give up her seat was turning into something more. Now she was thinking she wouldn’t make it to opening night of her conference after the serendipity of winning a coveted ticket to the sold out event. She was beginning to give up things that mattered more to her than a seat preference. But checking in with her own life priorities, she still felt what she could do for Vicky had a greater value than taking care of her own desire to get to the conference.

The street car isn’t fast moving, so maybe that’s why Vicky thought she could cross in front of it by quickly rolling across the tracks. What she didn’t account for was her front wheels catching in the track and tumbling out of her wheelchair face first onto the pavement in front of a moving train, cat carrier flying into the path as well.

In that moment, Chandra sprang into action as the duffles were flung away and she found herself dragging a woman she’d just met and her cat from in front of a train. (The train was also able to stop in time, fortunately.)

Vicky was bravely trying to take care of herself. Chandra was there when she wasn’t able to. Try as we might to be fiercely independent, we need others and others need us.

Chandra remembers a time in her childhood when her father came upon an accident with a fuel truck on fire. He dragged the driver from the truck. She wonders if that was a selfish act – he was risking death – and that would mean his family could be left without him. But now she realizes that things run in slow motion when you’re presented with your own opportunity to help in a life and death situation. You won’t feel that rush when you give up your seat or help someone carry bags or offer to get cat food. But when the stakes are higher and the risks are greater – and you’re just there – you’ll rush in, too.

Question is, will you have done the small things that lead to that moment?

Chandra didn’t get up that morning intending to be dragging people out of harm’s way. For some people, that’s their line of work and it’s a daily possibility. A mindset, even. Chandra’s journey-to-lifesaver was more subtle. It was in all the Hero Minded actions that lead to that moment. It started when she said “yes” to changing her seat. And then said “yes” to helping a person who needed her (while other people were letting her down). Each step of the way and with each “yes” she was pulled closer to the moment when Vicky really needed her.

Sometimes all we’re asked to do is change our seat or offer a quick helping hand. Sometimes we are only called upon to listen so that someone feels the effects of being seen and known during a time of emotional pain. Look for the opportunity to be a hero – to set yourself aside for another’s benefit – in even the smallest way.

Chandra is Hero Minded. So are you. Even if you don’t know it yet. Watch for your opportunity to fly your invisible cape. Look for it in the small things. How did you set yourself aside and meet the needs of another today?

You can find Chandra Archberger here and at Photogher. And if this story sounds familiar to someone named Vicky in Portland, Chandra would love to find you again.

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