05/07/2013 05:21 EDT | Updated 07/07/2013 05:12 EDT

Kind Gestures Last a Lifetime

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Abstract Bottles.

Issac Newton said that for every action there is an equal but opposite reaction. While this may be true for physics, it certainly does not carry over into interpersonal matters. Often the gentlest of gestures, smallest of actions or the quietest of whispered kind words will have an avalanche effect on the lives of others. An interaction that you may take as minor can often be positively transforming for the other person. The old saying that the flap of a butterfly's wings in Africa can cause an earthquake on the other side of the world is very much true in the mechanics of human relations.

The reactions to kindness can be immediate or may take many years, but they will always add some positive energy to the universe. The author James Mitchner often had a phrase in his books that read something like this: an event occurred that seemed inconsequential at the time but would prove to completely change the lives of this man and everyone who came in contact with him from that point forward.

An example of this happened to me as a young child in small town Ontario. My family had enough money then to get by but not too much to spare. So if I wanted a bag of chips or a soft drink the only way for a nine-year-old to drum up money was to find and cash in soda and beer bottles at two cents each. I didn't get a lot of chips or soft drinks, but did get a strong lesson in self sufficiency.

In our town back then there was, for want of a better word, a hobo. Today he'd be called a street person although since my little town only had two streets, there was a definite lack of variety for him in that respect. His name was Sam and he was harmless with a serious alcohol problem and got by on small part time jobs and the largesse of his family and friends.

One morning I saw a handful of bottles on our front lawn. This mysterious windfall was enough for a bag of chips or a candy bar. That summer, at the frequency of about once a week, a few bottles would be on our lawn first thing in the morning. My grandmother finally solved the mystery when she saw Sam putting the bottles on the lawn. He told her it was because he heard Philip collected bottles and he wanted to help him out. Now as my father would say Sam did not have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of. Yet over those three or four months he gave me quite a few of those bottles.

That lesson stayed with me for the rest of my life. It was an incredibly generous thing to do. Giving when you can afford it is one thing, but giving when you have nothing is certainly something else. His gifts made me realize that treating people with kindness, respect and dignity will always have a reward to both the giver and the receiver. The results are often more amazing when the recipient does not know who the giver is.

More than 50 years after that summer I still think often of Sam and thank him for how those bottles made me a better man.