WHITE: Go the extra mile — or the extra step

Joe Paterno was fired last week because he did everything he was supposed to do.

It’s easy to look at the situation and say you would have done more. It’s easy to say he didn’t do enough. It’s easy to say you would have acted differently.

Maybe Paterno had an inclination to do more — to tell the police or alert the parents. But for whatever reason, he did not take those extra steps. He did not do any more than he needed to, and that decision cost him his job and, worse, the innocence of children.

But this column is not just about a man I didn’t care about until last week. This is a call to do more than you are required to for the betterment of society.

Doing what we are supposed to do is one thing. Going beyond that is another. But we don’t have to go much beyond it to make a difference.

So instead of going the extra mile, if that sounds intimidating or like too much work, we should just try to go the extra step.

Hold the door open for someone. Smile at a classmate outside of class. Bring your roommate coffee after borrowing her car. Remember the name of a friend of a friend.

There’s nothing astounding about any of these things. But being on the receiving end of any of these gestures is so nice, and being on the giving side is not much trouble.

When it’s just an extra 30 seconds of wait time holding a door, why not just do it? If you recognize someone because they agreed with a point you made in class today, why not look them in the eye and acknowledge them? If you know a peppermint mocha in a holiday cup is a surefire way to brighten someone’s day, why not say thank you with that?

And yes, you just met that friend of a friend, but it’s not creepy that you remember his name to say it in greeting when you see him. It’s nice. It’s considerate. It’s mature.

It’s really that simple to ease someone else’s load. The other day, one of my roommates was given a nicer, newer television with a remote. My roommates and I are all strong-spirited and independent women, but our upper body strength is pretty weak. So as enticing as the TV/remote combo was, getting it to our third-story apartment was going to be impossible without help.

Luckily, our friend Konrad was online, and responded to our own call to service. He and his roommate Ryan came over and lugged the monstrosity of an entertainment box up the back staircase. It was probably not how either of them wanted to spend their Saturday afternoon, but neither complained. And when I got the chance to thank each of them, they said it was not a big deal with such sincerity that I believed them.

But even small acts of kindness — like letting someone print off your PrintWise since you have more cash than them or bringing someone the last muffin because you know they would appreciate it — are meaningful. And they make the big actions easier.

When doing the right thing and taking an extra step becomes a habit, acting for bigger and better change is possible.

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