We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.
At the beginning of Suzuki Violin Volume 2, there is a lovely essay with quotes from Dr. Suzuki about how the violin reveals the heart. I have found this thought confirmed again and again over the years that I have been teaching.
I recall the time when a beloved university student died tragically and unexpectedly of natural causes. The entire music department was devastated. This student had touched so many areas of the school of music: he won the aria competition as a singer, he won the concerto competition as a double bass player, and he also played viola in the school’s most prominent string quartet ensemble, which was made up of students from every string area studio. I remember how sad everyone was that semester. My student from the quartet played with an entirely different sound that semester. Her heart was sad and hurting, and I could hear that in the way she made music with her violin. Over time I could hear how the student was healing, as her music brightened and became more vibrant with life energy. I never forgot though my experience of listening to and hearing the sadness of this student’s heart in the time after the young man’s death.
When I close my eyes and listen to the sound a student or fellow musician makes, I fancy that I also can hear the message of the other person’s heart. That also means that others can hear the song that my heart plays. I want my music to uplift and encourage others, to act as a healing balm for troubled hearts, and to provide pleasure and enjoyment for my listeners. Therefore, I believe that I must practice small things that will steer my focus in the direction of giving to others.
Toward this end, I strive to make a habit of practicing the little things that will build good character in the long run. I look for small acts that I can perform that will work toward the good of others. I encourage my students to join me in this practice as well. In doing so, we are working to build a nicer place for everyone, including ourselves. One could think of this principle as similar to the boy scouts' aspiration to do a good deed every day. For me it is the principle of practicing the habit of excellence of character and of becoming a fine human being.
Here are some possible things that one could do to affect others in a positive way:
- Pick up trash, whether it is in the school hallway, on the sidewalk, or in the restroom.
- Wipe dry a bathroom counter in a public restroom.
- Pick up trash along the road in your neighborhood.
- Find a replacement roll of toilet paper or paper towels before the item runs out and place it within convenient reach of the next person who might need it.
- Take someone else’s shopping cart back for them. Better yet, use their cart for yourself and then return it to the cart corral. Maybe take a second cart back at the same time.
- Pick up something that someone else has dropped.
- Write an email or send a card to someone you want to thank or show appreciation to.
- Offer to shop for someone who needs help, such as someone who is ill or who is elderly.
- Phone a friend or write a letter to someone who you know would appreciate the gesture.
- Hold the door open for someone to pass through.
- Offer to carry things for someone else.
- Bus your own table after eating. Bus someone else’s table.
- Smile at someone who looks like they could use a hug.
- Always say “thank you” and “please” to others.
- Accept praise and thanks in a gracious and humble way.
- Compliment the other person two-fold.
- Listen to someone else talk. Better yet, initiate the conversation by asking the other person to talk first and then listening.
- Ask how someone else is, and really listen to the answer.
- Ask at least one person about his or her family every day or some other personal interest.
- Hug someone who is having trouble finding his or her own smile.
- Pat someone on the shoulder.
- Ask someone to share his or her opinion.
- Buy a small, unexpected gift or a humorous card for a friend.
- Share a meal with a friend.
- Look into someone’s eyes. One can really discover much about what is going on in a person’s life by gazing into his or her eyes.
It really is not that difficult to find something to do for someone else. I try and make it a point to look for at least one thing to do for someone else every day. I find that just the habit of looking for something soon yields me something that I can do. Looking keeps me in that frame of mind where I see things that need to be done.
What are some kinds of things that you can think of to do that would follow this principle? Please share your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below.
Enjoy your week and consider making excellence of character -- the Practice of Little Things -- a habit that you will practice this week.