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The Little Kindnesses Matter


RESIDENT WILLIAM MCKINLEY would often informally invite confidants to the White House to review the day's business or discuss the problems of the days ahead. Charles Dawes was often one such guest. In Portrait of an American: Charles G. Dawes (1953) by Bascom Timmons, he quotes from Dawes diary about one such gathering:
He was considering the appointment of a minister to a foreign country. There were two candidates. The President outlined their qualifications, which seemed almost identical. Both were able, experienced, honest, and competent. Each was equally entitled to preference from a political standpoint. Then he told this little story, an incident apparently so unimportant that, except for its consequences, it never would have been told, an incident so trivial that the ordinary man would have forgotten it. But McKinley was not an ordinary man.

The President said that, years before, when he was a member of the House of Representatives, he boarded a streetcar on Pennsylvania Avenue one stormy night, and took the last seat in the car, next to the rear door. An old and bent washerwoman, dripping wet, entered, carrying a heavy basket. She walked to the other end of the car and stood in the aisle. No one offered her a seat, tired and forlorn as she looked. One of the candidates whom the President was considering—he did not name him to us—was sitting in the seat near which she was standing. He was reading a newspaper, which he shifted so as not to seem to see her, and retained his seat. Representative McKinley arose, walked down the aisle, picked up the basket of washing, and led the old lady back to his seat, which he gave her. The present candidate did not look up from his newspaper. He did not see McKinley or what he had done.

This was the story. The candidate never knew what we then knew, that this little act of selfishness, or rather this little omission of an act of consideration for others, had deprived him of that which would have crowned his ambition of perhaps a lifetime.
Dawes relates this lesson:
We never know what determines one's career in life. Indeed, it may be these little forgotten deeds, accumulated, are the more important factors; for it is they which must, in many cases, provide us with the opportunity to do the greater deeds, and we unconscious of it. Why comes this reward in life? Why that disappointment or failure? We cannot know with certainty. This we can know, however, and this story illustrates it: There is no act of kindliness, however small, which may not help us in life; and there is no act of unkindness, however trivial, which may not hurt us. More than that: The habitual doing of kindness always adds to our happiness, for kindness done is duty performed. Unkindness always breeds an unhappy spirit, for unkindness is duty neglected.
Malcolm Forbes once said, “You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 05:01 PM
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