[blue rare]—Small Acts of Grace

I watched a documentary two or three years ago in which the film crew spent a month recording the day-to-day life of a couple who were both working full time at minimum wage jobs and doing their best to raise several children while living in poverty.  One of the points of dramatic tension in the show came when the family had run out of food money a week before their pay cheques were deposited, and had been forced to take out a high interest payday loan to buy groceries.  It really bothered me that the production company and the crew didn’t help the family out by passing a hat around.  I mean, they could all have chipped in a few dollars each, it wouldn’t have killed them.

Likely such interference transgress all sorts of ethical boundaries for documentarists.  It eats away at me, though.  I understand why the Wild Kingdom film crew can’t step in and save the wounded snowshoe hare from the lynx, but surely this is not the same thing?

We are so powerless in this world; so many things are beyond our control.  We can recycle soda pop bottles and pee in the dark all we want, but our environment is still being ravaged.  We can join marches, start petitions, and vote our consciences, but the world is still run, by and large, by fascist greedheads.  One of the few ways we can exert a positive influence upon the world around us is through the power of what I think of as small acts of grace.

They come in all shapes and sizes, these small acts.  They can be as simple as being courteous and polite: holding the shop door open for the gentleman or lady behind you; giving up your bus seat when it’s needed more by somebody else; or maybe coughing up a few bucks when the person in front if you comes up a little short of cash at the grocery till.

Sometimes they can be more challenging.  For example, refraining from being judgemental of others.  Or at least taking the time to understand, to give the benefit of the doubt, to listen with a generous heart and an open mind.  Putting as much time and effort into understanding and forgiving the weaknesses, transgressions, and foibles of others as we do in rationalizing and justifying our own.

I have never had much faith in secular or spiritual organizations.  Nor in rules, processes, or formalized codes of ethics.  I would always turn a blind eye to someone I saw shoplifting or a co-worker pilfering office supplies or lifting a few dollars from petty cash.  Nor would I think less of them.  I’m sure we’ve all done things out of need to which we would not readily admit.  I know I have.

Everywhere I’ve been and everything I’ve seen has led me to believe that structured systems of any sort lend themselves far too easily to cruelty and abuse.  The only antidotes to this are human scale virtues such as humility, generosity, curiosity, and kindness.  These small graces.  They are fragile and slight.  Possibly they are futile.  But in the end, they are all we have.