We live in a world where there are stark examples in the news of people hurting others both physically and emotionally. This happens in our day to day lives as well, where people hurt each other both overtly, through violence or emotional abuse, or in other, less obvious ways. Have you ever taken time to think that, perhaps, the cumulative effect of the small hurts may be just as impactful as the ones that make the news or that fill our personal stories of pain? If that is the case, what if there was an antidote for these micro-hurts, an ointment for these tiny little cuts? What if it did not involve merely raising awareness or becoming more politically correct, but instead prescribed that the answer to our cumulative “micro-pain” is as simple as micro-healing though tiny acts of love? Is it possible that the solution to our cumulative “micro-hurts” is “micro-love”? More boldly, what if the answer to the more obvious and blatant hurt and pain we see in the news and in our personal lives, does not require some grand governmental intervention or super savvy technocratic plan, but that same “micro-love” solution applied in a macro way? In a 2013 article, the (now 40+ year-old) origin of the term microinequities is described like this: “In 1973 Mary Rowe, while working for the President and Chancellor at MIT, coined the notion of micro-inequities, which she defined as “apparently small events which are often ephemeral and hard-to-prove, events which are covert, often unintentional, frequently unrecognized by the perpetrator, which occur wherever people are perceived to be ‘different.’ ”
Here are some micro-inequities frequently cited:
- checking emails or texting during a face-to-face conversation
- consistently mispronouncing a person’s name
- interrupting a person mid-sentence
- making eye-contact only with “x” while talking to a group with both “x” and “y”
- taking more questions from “x” than “y”
- confusing a person (or their origin) with someone else(s)
- rolling your eyes
- sighing loudly….. and the list goes on…
Rowe noted that micro-inequities often had serious cumulative, harmful effects. In other words, she was attempting to describe how these micro-hurts lead to macro hurt in the workplace, in the home, and in our culture. Forty plus years later, we have come to associate microinequities with one side or the other of a polarized political discourse. One side believes that we have become too sensitive while the other side believes we are not nearly sensitive enough to the pain these microinequities cause. I am not about to get into that debate.
Instead, the reason I call attention to this example is that, unlike these micro hurts, which are often unintentional, I believe we can choose to be intentional with small acts of micro-love. As a follower of Jesus, I believe this has already been spelled out better than I can do it here, but maybe you don’t follow Him, or maybe your experience with those that claim to follow Him has been different, so let’s put that aside for just a moment. Instead of debating that, let’s just try to reverse Rowe’s definition. What if we were to describe micro-love as “apparently small events which are often ephemeral and easy to do, events which are sometimes overt- but often covert, completely intentional, frequently un-celebrated, which occur when people take the time to be ‘different,’ by choosing to reach out to others, meet them where they are and show them that someone thinks they are important and loved.
Examples of micro-love include:
- putting down your phone or choosing a face-to-face conversation over text
- texting someone out of the blue to let them know you are thinking of them or praying for (or with) them
- consistently using a person’s name
- listening, really listening, without interrupting a person mid-sentence, or thinking of what you want to say next (an area of huge personal challenge for me!)
- making eye-contact with both those you know and strangers
- showing that you value all people equally, by acknowledging them personally and letting them share their ideas
- in the midst of a conversation, refusing to pile on to the latest negative discourse and instead pointing out ways to get past it and come together
- practicing awareness of your body language and controlling things like sighs and crossed arms
- smiling or praying for people in traffic versus using “sign language” and honking to communicate
- doing a small job or chore for someone without being asked
- for more of these, I recommend Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages – because, like it or not, we are all different and we all need different things to “feel the love”
- (I recommend taking the quiz and also subscribing to the weekly tips.)
That is the point, after all, it is not about haphazardly doing these acts of love to counteract and someday overcome the micro-hurts and macro-hurts we experience. It is really taking the time to “see” another person as an individual. To learn what they need. To empathize with where they are hurting and to take action on that. Again, that action does not have to have a billion-dollar price tag or a profound intellect behind it. All that action requires is you, taking who you have been created to be, a creature capable of love and sharing that love with others. If these micro-acts are done much more often, many more billions of times each day by many more billions than those that choose the opposite path, the macro change we are wanting will occur!
To bring us out of the aspirational end game discussion and get real practical, here is my challenge for you. I’d like you to take a few minutes and do a quick assessment of how much time you spend watching the news, listening to podcasts (guilty,!) thinking or texting your outrage and engaging in negative talk around the physical or virtual “water cooler.” Tally the hours you spend each week languishing in and perpetuating both macro and micro-hurt. Take that time and dedicate just 25% of that next week to doing small, intentional acts of micro -love. If you are thoughtful enough to be reading a blog, on this topic, this long, you probably already do a good deal of this, so what I am suggesting is to increase your ‘micro-love output’ by 25%. Practice that for a bit and then set a goal to increase that to 50% and so on…you get the idea. I would be willing to wager you will start to notice a change both around you and within you. I’d love for you to try this and share those stories with me. I’d love for you to intentionally practice micro-love that eclipses the micro-hurts and brings about the macro-change we all want to see in the world.