How Our Small Acts Define Us

At Texas A&M University in College Station, the Aggie Code of Honor is easy to remember, and most students can recite it by heart: “Aggies do not lie, cheat, or steal, or tolerate those that do.” And, although I am 100 percent in agreement with this motto of self-government, I want to take the topic of character and integrity one step further, which I refer to as—the little things. From childhood, most people are taught the big character stuff, like be trustworthy, hardworking, responsible, and loyal. But, in my opinion, it’s the little things that truly level the playing field at the end of the day.

One day, after a hard workout at the gym, I witnessed a conversation in the locker room that has always stuck with me. Two men who consistently trained together decided to allow a third guy to join their workout on that particular morning. It was to be an informal evaluation to see if they would let him join their daily regimen, perhaps permanently. And, although the new guy trained with intensity and brought experience to the table, it was quickly decided that they would not allow him to participate in their workouts—ever again. Their reason: Because he chose not to wipe down his treadmill after a brisk run. Apparently, he covered the cardio machine with lots of his sweat but decided not to make the 10-foot journey to the dispenser of sanitized wipes that was mounted on the wall. In short, he didn’t clean up after himself. One of the men tried to defend the new guy’s behavior by asking his buddy, who had already judged the situation: “So are you saying it’s one strike and you’re out, no second chances?” The other guy picked up his gym bag and replied: “I’ve seen all I need to see regarding this guy, he’s not joining our group.” He then exited the locker room without saying another word. I haven’t seen the new guy since.

In the past, when I was seriously considering hiring a person (or working with them), I would invite them to join me at a casual restaurant. I’ve learned that you can glean a tremendous amount of insight into someone’s character over a 45-minute meal, if you pay attention. I look for things like how do they treat the server, table manners, are they buried in their phone, do they offer to pay or thank me when I pay. Do they complain about the food or service or are they positive and complimentary about the experience. Do they say please and thank you. These qualities (or red flags) might never be uncovered during a formal interview, and my “restaurant evaluations” have typically been right.

There’s the person who leaves their shopping cart in the middle of the parking lot on a windy day. The one who doesn’t put their weights away at the gym, won’t replace the toilet paper roll when they use the last of it, or who throws their trash out of the window of their vehicle. I respect and admire those who pick up the piece of trash, especially when it’s not their own. The one who runs ahead of the person with the stroller so they can hold the door open. Or, the shopper with a cart full of groceries who lets the person holding a loaf of bread go next. These are my people, and this is my tribe! After all, isn’t it the sum of these small, everyday things that add up to the big ones? As they say, it’s what you do when nobody’s looking, right?

Power Quote

“Knowledge will give you power, but character respect.”

—Bruce Lee

Harris, Chris. “Experts Do the Little Things.” “I Go Through.” “I Go Thru: Breaking Through With Expert Power.” 2020, pp. 67-69.

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