Recently Rosa Parks passed away. Many people mourn her passing, and rightly so. She made a major difference in American life.
But in another sense, the attention paid to her is strange–not “bad” strange, but “good” strange. We tend to notice people who do the big things, the spectacular things, the very public things. We tend to ignore the people who do the small things, except for those few occasions when one small thing leads to so many others. But most of the time, most things that are done in the world are accomplished by many people doing small things.
I think that’s a major reason why so many people think so much of Rosa Parks. She’s an example to the rest of us of what can be accomplished by doing simple things. She’s a challenge to us, because what she did, practically anyone could have done, but she did. And that’s the difference!
Too many times we are so concerned with finding something spectacular to do, while we neglect the little things that we need to do from day to day. Perhaps you can’t challenge the commentators on TV when they are saying something you think is either stupid or morally wrong. But you can say something to your neighbors and friends about it.
I have a pet peeve about customer service. I really like retail stores to provide excellent service, and I intensely dislike impolite people in those positions. The other day I was standing in line at a major retailer, and there was a elderly lady ahead of me who was somewhat slow, a bit weak, and her hands shook. She was not dressed well, and her order was not large. The cashier spoke courteously to the lady. She walked around her counter to scan a heavy item, one that most customers could have put on the counter. She treated the lady like one of that store’s most valued customer.
As I watched, I said to myself, “You’d complain if she mistreated that lady. Somebody needs to know she’s doing her job and doing it well.” So when I got to the counter, I asked how I could provide feedback to her supervisor. There was the inevitable moment when her look asked me, “What did I do wrong?” I assured her that I simply appreciated the courteous, professional manner with which she had dealt with the previous customer. “I was just doing my job. I was just treating her the way I would want to be treated.” I did find her supervior, who also gave me a look of surprise that I would go out of my way after checking out to find her, and report something good about one of her employees.
I think that cashier was doing the sort of thing Rosa Parks did. I don’t mean to belittle Rosa Parks’ accomplishment in any way. What I want is for us to be challenged to take that extra step, speak that extra word, challenge that common (but wrong) way of doing things, and make life just a little better for the next person.
This can take many forms:
- Political action. At a minimum, vote! Even better, study out the various campaigns and talk to your friends about them. If you’re so inclined, get involved in a campaign.
- Give feedback. Remember, however, to give positive as well as negative feedback.
- Speak up! When someone is saying something wrong, say something. When someone is doing something wrong, say something. When they’re doing something right, say something!
- Never be stopped by the thought that something is just a little thing.
Rosa Parks just refused to give up her seat on a bus.
Look what a profound impact that action had.