294 – The Ripple Effect of Small Acts of Kindness: A Stoic Perspective

Does the world seem more divided and angry? Does it feel like it’s hard to trust others in our society? Today I want to talk about how the small things we do can have a bigger impact than you think.

"Kindness is mankind's greatest delight."

— Marcus Aurelius

Often times we get stuck in thinking that the world is a mess. Since our minds are attuned to spotting negative things so it can keep up safe, watching the news or seeing what’s happening in our feeds on social media can easily make the world seem pretty grim. If we’re not careful it’s easy to become anxious and pessimistic about humanity.

The significance of small acts of kindness stands as a beacon, illuminating the path toward a more compassionate society. Today I want to explore how seemingly insignificant gestures acquire profound importance, offering a roadmap for individual and collective betterment, and how small actions can impact others, ourselves, and society as a whole.

The Stoic Foundation of Kindness

"You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late."

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Stoicism emphasizes virtue, wisdom, and the pursuit of the common good as the foundations of a fulfilled life. Marcus Aurelius, once penned, "What is not good for the swarm is not good for the bee”, underscoring the Stoic belief in the interconnectedness of all individuals and the importance of contributing positively to the community. In the context of kindness, Stoicism posits that even the smallest gestures of goodwill ripple through the social fabric, benefiting the whole.

Humanities greatest strength is that we can work together to accomplish amazing things. While many attribute our intellect as the reason that we have come to dominate the world, it’s out ability to work together in large groups that is truly our defining characteristic.

The Power of Small Acts

The other day I stumbled down a rabbit hole on Quora about small acts of kindness. As I read through each of the posts of seemingly small acts, I found myself tearing up and smiling at the generosity of strangers, often in situations where they didn’t need to be. From buying some hungry teenagers a box of tacos at Taco Bell, to paying for gas for an elderly woman who only had $3 in change, to a former math teacher on the subway helping a father relearn fractions so he in turn could help his son who was struggling in school, the kindness of strangers is alive and well.

Trust is a the glue that builds strong communities. Since most of us live in cities and larger communities, it’s not possible to know everyone, so we need to be able to trust others. Small acts of kindness are manifestations of our inherent capacity for empathy and compassion. These small acts, where you show kindness in situation where you don’t need to, increase trust in society. Where there is more trust, we feel safer, and our outlook on the world improves. Such gestures may seem trivial, yet their cumulative effect can transform communities and, by extension, societies.

Everyday Kindness

"Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless."

— Mother Teresa

Stoicism teaches us to focus on what is within our control—our actions and attitudes. Acts of kindness, no matter how small, are within everyone's grasp. Epictetus remarked, "It is not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters,” which means that we choose how we want to interact with the world. By consciously deciding to perform acts of kindness, we assert control over our lives and contribute in positive way by helping others where we may have nothing to gain.

The Impact on the Giver and the Receiver

“Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness."

— Seneca

From a Stoic viewpoint, the benefits of kindness are twofold: they enhance the well-being of the receiver and enrich the character of the giver. We become better people by practicing kindness. Because practicing kindness is a choice, it is an exercise of will to find moments where we can be kind, and to step up and take action rather than just going on about our day. Stoicism encourages us to seek out opportunities for kindness as a means of self-improvement and as a way to contribute to the greater good.

One of the most interesting things that I’ve learned in this life is that when you learn to be kind to others and less selfish, you are happier overall. Usually people are selfish because they feel like they are not getting something they think they deserve or need in order to be happy. I know for me when I was younger I was definitely a more selfish person and this was certainly the case. Practicing small acts of kindness helps you to overcome your selfish tendencies. You do good things to others not because they deserve them or because you’re expecting anything in return, but because you want to give them.

The Neuroscience of Kindness

"No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted."

— Aesop

Modern neuroscience supports the Stoic perspective on kindness, showing that acts of generosity and compassion activate parts of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust. These findings suggest that kindness is not just morally commendable but also beneficial to our psychological and physical health.

There have been plenty of studies that also show the fastest way to improve our own sense of wellbeing is to do something kind for someone else. We actually get a small burst of dopamine when we do something kind, even if it is a small act. If you’re feeling a little down, doing something kind for someone else is a simple yet effective way to improve your mood.

Kindness in Action

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."

— Epictetus

The world abounds with instances where small acts of kindness have led to significant impacts. Consider when Princess Diana shook the hand of a man with AIDS. At the time, there was a lot of misinformation about AIDS, and her simple act of kindness help to change the view of the world towards those who had contacted the disease. Or the chain reaction set off by a single act of kindness in a coffee shop in Pennsylvania, where patrons paid for the orders of those behind them for hours. Minor gestures can inspire, motivate, and spread joy beyond their immediate context.

In my own life, I’m currently living in Airbnbs in Amsterdam until I find a permanent place. A few weeks ago, I had a short trip scheduled for Berlin and didn’t want to take all of my stuff with me, and there was no way that I would be able to take my bike with me. The host at one of my Airbnbs was kind enough to let me leave some of my stuff and my bike at his place while I was away. It wasn’t a big deal for him since he had plenty of storage space, but for me it was incredibly helpful to not have to find somewhere to store everything while I was away.

Cultivating Kindness

"Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible."

— The Dalai Lama

So how can we get better about showing more kindness in our lives?

Incorporating kindness into daily life does not require grand gestures. It begins with a conscious effort to recognize the humanity in others and to act on this recognition in even the smallest ways. This could be as simple as listening attentively, offering a word of encouragement, or expressing gratitude.

To get better at practicing kindness in out lives, we need to become more aware. It’s far too easy to go about our day focused on just ourselves and not engage with others. By working to cultivate an attitude of kindness, you can develop an awareness of how you show up in the world and look for small ways to practice kindness. Whether that’s opening the door for someone else, buying a coffee for a stranger, or giving a stranger a compliment, we can all do small things to make others lives just little easier.

Another exercise you can do is to practice reflective journaling. Each day, take some time reflect on acts of kindness you observed, received, or performed. This practice, rooted in Stoic reflection, encourages mindfulness of kindness as a daily practice by keeping it top of mind.

Sometimes the best thing you can do is to take the time to just listen to someone else. There’s a lot of loneliness out in the world. Because we spend so much time online, we often forget to connect with others in real life. Make a conscious effort to listen more attentively to others can help them feel seen and connected and I think that we could all do with a little more of that.

Speaking of being online, practicing kindness in this world does not stop when you’re on your phone. When you’re online and you feel tempted to post a snarky or rude comment on someones post, take the time to think about how this might impact others. Does it help or hurt them? What would this say about you? Take the time to find a way to lift others and you’ll find yourself in a better mood knowing that you made an active choice to do good in the world.


In a world that often emphasizes the grandiose, it is the small, everyday acts of kindness that weave the fabric of a compassionate society. The cumulative effect of widespread acts of kindness can lead to a more empathetic and cohesive society. By fostering an environment where kindness is valued and practiced, we can counteract divisiveness and isolation, creating communities that thrive on mutual support and understanding.

In the spirit of Stoicism, small acts of kindness are not merely altruistic gestures but a fundamental component of a virtuous life. They serve as a testament to our capacity for goodness and our potential to effect change in the world around us. As Marcus Aurelius reminded us, "The best way to avenge yourself is to not be like that." By choosing kindness, we rebel against cynicism and apathy, embracing a philosophy that nurtures our collective humanity.

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270- Benefit of the Doubt

Do you give others the benefit of the doubt? When other people disappoint you do you cut them some slack? Today I want to talk about why it’s important to give people some grace, and how it can make you happier with yourself.

“Everywhere, at each moment, you have the option: to accept this event with humility; to treat this person as they should be treated; to approach this thought with care, so that nothing irrational creeps in.”

—Marcus Aurelius

My Story

One of the things that went wrong in my last relationship was that I was not very good about giving my ex-partner the benefit of the doubt. When we would have arguments I would often take what she said and twist it into something that was done to hurt me. I would often assume that actions she did that took that I didn’t care for would done out of spite or meanness.

She often complained that I didn’t give her the benefit of the doubt. That I was so sure what she meant by what she said or what she did, and unfortunately, it was usually that I assumed the worst, and gave everything a negative spin. And to be honest, she was correct.

Now, the reason why we reached this state of affairs was because of me. Having grown up in a culture where I had to conform to fit in, whenever things got challenging, I would always try to figure out what I thought was the right thing to say was so that I didn’t get into trouble. This meant that rather than telling the truth about what I thought about something, I would try to figure out the answer that would please the other person, in this case, my ex-partner.

But the thing is, when you live this way, you erode trust with other people, especially those closest to you. When you are constantly lying about how you feel and what you think, it makes it challenging if not impossible for someone to trust you.

What happens in this situation is that the person who has to pretend to be something they’re not feels resentful because they feel like they can’t be themselves. The person that is being lied to is resentful because they feel like they pretender doesn’t trust them, and that they cannot trust the pretender.

To put it mildly, this creates a very unhealthy relationship dynamic. Even if you love the other person deeply, and you want things to work, this kind of dynamic doesn’t foster trust on either side.

I know this is a bit of tangent, but I want you to understand where I’m coming from so that when I dive into what things you can do to be more graceful with people, you can understand how I got to place where I really had to make an effort to work on this. I’ve talked to other people who’ve grown up in similar situations and they’ve talked about how they’ve had similar relationship issues. I hope that by sharing some of these things, that if you see yourself in a similar situation, you might be able to learn from my mistakes.

Road to Ruin

What happens when we don’t give others the benefit of the doubt is that we can ruin relationships. It erodes trust because other people feel like they can’t make mistakes around us. Because we assume the worst of them, they feel like they can’t be vulnerable around us. It means that they can’t have a bad day around us when they aren’t at their best.

When we don’t give others the benefit of the doubt, it also makes them less willing to want to give us some grace when we’re not at our best. This may not even be a conscious act on their part, but more that they start to become protective of themselves. When others, especially those who are close to us, feel like they cannot be vulnerable around us they put up emotional barricades to keep us out because we aren’t safe.


“It is our own opinions that disturb us. Take away these opinions then, and resolve to dismiss your judgment about an act as if it were something grievous, and your anger is gone.”

—Marcus Aurelius

One reason why we may not give others the benefit of the doubt is that we are so sure what we know what the the other person really means by something they do or say. We assume that our judgement about them is correct, regardless of what they do or say to explain themselves or their actions. And really this is just us projecting our thoughts and opinions on someone else.

In my case, I would project what I thought my ex partner thought of me onto every word and action. Not what she really thought of me, but I what I assumed she thought of me. Since we can never truly know what others think of us, I would assume what she thought of me, and unfortunately, because I was so hard on myself and didn’t think that I was all that great of a person, I just assumed that she felt the same way. I was so sure that I knew the truth it didn’t matter how much she protested and tried to tell me what she really thought.


“The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.”

— William James

So why is it important that we give others the benefit of the doubt?

We are all fallible and make mistakes in our lives. Just as we want others to give us some grace when we screw up, we should be willing to do the same for others. None of us are perfect and none of us will ever do everything perfectly. In order for us to get along with others in the world, we need to be willing to trust others, and let them make mistakes.

When we don’t cut others some slack, then they will usually start to disconnect from us, and feel like they have to protect themselves from us. What might have been once a warm and caring relationship, becomes more fraught with distrust and full of resentment. Even in professional relationships assuming the worst of others makes it challenging when you need trust to help each other in challenging situations. I know that I was far more willing to step up and go the extra mile for managers who I felt were kind to me when I messed up. I was also far more willing to step up and own my mistakes when I felt like there was room to do so.

Face Value

“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil.”

— Marcus Aurelius

One of the things that we should be willing to do is to take others at face value. Now this is not an easy thing to do because we will often try to read into what other people actions mean or interpret what they say to have some other kinds of meaning. In most cases we’re just better off taking people at face value, and trust them until we have reason not to.

Now in my case this has been challenging. Because the environment I grew up in was never really about being honest about how you felt, you felt like you could never really trust what someone else was saying. At church you never really spoke about your real opinion on something, but rather found the right answers so that everyone thought you were a good member. It was about saying and doing all the right things in front of the right people.

At home, with my father, it was about making sure that when he was angry about something that I figured out the right thing to say to try and calm him down so I didn’t get hit. Both of these factors taught me that people can’t be trusted because they will say what the need to say, and not what they really mean.

When we decide to take people at face value, there will be those who lie to us. In most cases, it doesn’t cause us harm to let them. For example, someone might break a date with us and make up some excuse for it rather than simply telling us they’re not interested in us anymore. We could get upset and call them out on it but what good would that do? The end result is still the same, and it doesn’t do us any good to think poorly of them. I think we’re better off being a little more gracious than assuming bad intentions of others.

And funny enough, I’ve had situations where I ran into people who had broken off dates with me, and because I handled it graciously at the time, they owned up to why they broke things off. A few became friends because they felt like they could trust me.

Self Compassion

Ironically, one of the ways that we can get better about giving others the benefit of the doubt is to practice self compassion. Often the reason we don’t cut others slack when they need it is because we don’t do the same to ourselves. When we make a mistake, often we can be very harsh on ourselves, and beat ourselves up for our screw ups.

Often we aren’t kind to ourselves because we have low self esteem and we carry a sense of shame about ourselves. When we carry a deep sense of shame, we feel like we are a bad person and need to be punished when we mess up. While we need to accept the consequences for our actions and do our best to fix things when we screw up, shame pushes us beyond that to a point where it becomes unhelpful and even destructive.

When we practice self compassion, we are better able to step up and take responsibility for our actions. We’re able to see that just because we made a mistake it doesn’t mean that we are a bad person. While our actions might have been harmful, we recognize that we are not our actions, and we can step up and do our best to fix the situation. When we can have that kind of compassion for ourselves, we are better able to extend that to others as well. It’s like when we practice it on ourselves, it’s easier to give it to others.


Giving others the benefit of the doubt is something that can go a long way in helping others to trust us. It can help create stronger relationships where they can be vulnerable with us. It also helps us assume the best of others, and if you’re like me, I know that I really appreciate it when others assume the best of me. Giving each other some grace, and cutting each other more slack would go a long way in repairing some of the rifts that we see in society. It would mean that we could be more tolerant and forgiving for each other when we are not at our best, and as we all know, no one is ever always at their best.