Wisdom from the Masters for the Care and Maintenance of the Soul
The value of one’s life often lies not in celebrated accomplishments but in small, unnoticed, yet profound ways we touch the lives of others—those times when a little is much.
Robert B. Sherman, who, with his brother Richard, composed iconic movie scores for Walt Disney, tells of their close relationship with Disney in his autobiography, “Moose.” Among the brothers’ experiences at Disney Studios, one, in particular, illustrates a facet of Disney’s life that often goes overlooked. “He was just a simple man—a simple, wonderful man who understood that the greatest gift life bestows upon a person is the chance to share with others.”
The score to Mary Poppins elevated the Sherman brothers to the A-list among movie score composers. Robert and ‘Dick’ each received two Oscars for the best Original Score and Best Original Song, “Chim Chim Cher-ee.”
A song from the movie that endeared them to Walt Disney won no awards, but won the heart of their employer.
Something very special transpired that first time we played “Feed the Birds” for Walt. The song touched him deeply and personally. It was on that day that he offered us full-time employment and from that time on, when we’d meet with him, Walt would often request a private recital of his favorite song, “Feed the Birds.”
One time after listening to the song, Robert heard Disney say under his breath, “Yup, that’s what it’s all about.” This song, Robert observes, “summed him up.”
The “Feed the Birds” sequence in Mary Poppins portrays an old beggar woman sitting on the steps of London’s St Paul’s Cathedral, selling bags of breadcrumbs for feeding the many pigeons surrounding her. The scene plays while Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews) sings “Feed the Birds” to the children in her charge.
Early each day to the steps of Saint Paul’s
The little old bird woman comes
In her own special way to the people she calls
Come, buy my bags full of crumbsCome feed the little birds, show them you care
And you’ll be glad if you do
Their young ones are hungry
Their nests are so bare
All it takes is tuppence from you
The last stanza connects the metaphor of feeding the birds for a small investment of tuppence (two pence or 2.5 cents) with acts of kindness.
All around the cathedral, the saints and apostles
Look down as she sells her wares.
Although you can’t see it, you know they are smiling
Each time someone shows that he cares
Disney’s choice for casting the role of the beggar woman illustrates the practical application of the feed the birds metaphor.
Walt Disney’s decision to hire the once-celebrated actress Jane Darwell to play the old “Bird Woman,” Robert Sherman writes, produced “one of the more beautiful moments in the history of movie-making … It’s one of those rare instances where life and art became one in the same thing.”
Miss Darwell, best remembered for her Academy Award-winning performance as “Ma Joad” in The Grapes of Wrath, now aged and infirmed, lived in the Motion Picture Country Home and Hospital. Only the distant memories of her filmmaking days connected her with an illustrious career that included, besides Grapes of Wrath, Gone with the Wind, and “The Ox-Bow Incident.” Bygone days, never to be lived again. Or so she thought.
Walt Disney remembered Miss Darwell while the rest of the industry forgot. He offered her the part of Bird Woman. But more than that. Sherman writes, “He treated her as the star she once had been.” She received a script and letter via a special messenger, and Disney arranged for a limousine to pick her up on the day of the shoot.
The opportunity to be a part of Mary Poppins delighted Miss Darwell, especially after so many years away from the cameras. She proved to be a perfect fit for the Bird Woman role. But Walt could have hired others for the part from a pool of older actresses still active in the industry. Why choose Miss Darwell? Here’s how Robert Sherman sees it.
I think it was a particularly poetic thing of Walt to have done this. After all, as Walt said, referring to “Feed the Birds,” “That’s what it’s all about,” doing just a little extra and going just a little bit out of your way to make someone feel special. Sometimes it can make all the difference in the world to a person.
Former first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt (1884–1962), said, “Since you get more joy out of giving joy to others, you should put a good deal of thought into the happiness that you are able to give.”
Imagine that. We have the time, capacity and the opportunities to give happiness—a far-reaching gift that requires but a minor investment. A word of encouragement. A timely, sincere smile. A congratulatory pat on the back. A friendly message scribbled on a postcard. An unexpected act of courtesy. On and on, these small expenditures yield inestimable profits demonstrating that with acts of kindness, a little is much.
Gifts of happiness have a boomerang effect. One always receives as much or more than one gives. Christ said, “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again” (Luke 6:38).
Unfortunately, organized religion seizes on this teaching to encourage the giving of money into its coffers, but that’s not Christ’s intention. The context (Luke 6: 36, 37) finds Christ discouraging judging others and encouraging kindness and mercifulness—the giving of happiness as opposed to stealing it. In such transactions, a little is always much.
When John the Baptist announced the impending arrival of the Kingdom of God, he cried out, “Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance.” Learn and practice new behaviors; change (repent of) your old practices. Thus began a new day that changed the course of human history.
“What shall we do then?” the people asked. Maybe they expected some new religious practice or method of worship. Imagine the surprise when John answered, “He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise” (Luke 3:11).
That’s what the world needed—acts of unexpected kindness. Picture a shivering vendor peddling his wares in the marketplace of old Jerusalem on a grayish, cold, wet day. A stranger approaches and offers him a coat. The astonished peddler receives the garment with gratitude and welcomes its protection against the chilling, blustery wind. What began as another dreary day suddenly turned for the better. And the gift of happiness also benefited the merchant’s customers as he served them with a smile.
John charged tax collectors to collect only the required amount and soldiers to deal justly with others and receive their wages without complaint. But John knew his role as “one crying in the wilderness” was to prepare the way for “He that cometh after me” (John 1:15, 23). The day came when, as John confessed, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
The sending of the One for whom the throne awaited corresponded to an expression of God’s loving kindness (Ephesians 2:7; Titus 3:4-6). In Christ the King, the theme begun by John reached its perfection. The world would never be the same.
The new Kingdom demanded new behaviors. Kindness in the dispensation of grace replaced harsh condemnation under the law.
“Be reconciled to thy brother.”
“Agree with thine adversary.”
“Let your communication be Yea, yea; Nay, nay.”
If one “smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”
“Love your enemies.”
“Whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.”
Jesus not only taught kindness, but he also showed the way. He consistently went the extra mile to improve the lot of social and religious underdogs.
Once when Christ entered Jericho, the most despised man in town, a tax collector, strained to see the procession. Being short in stature, the man, Zacchaeus, climbed a tree to get a better view. Already the crowd must have been abuzz with speculation about where Jesus would stay while in town. As he passed by the diminutive tree climber, he looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for today I must abide at thy house” (Luke 19:5).
A collective gasp issued forth from the crowd. “They all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner” (Luke 19:7). Just a little thing meant so much. That simple act changed a man’s life forever.
“Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32). Paul challenges the elect of God to identify themselves by wearing the garments of mercy, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering, forbearance forgiveness, charity, and peacefulness (Colossians 3:12-15). These things characterize the children of God. Christ taught, “By their fruits ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:20).
Scouting has recently fallen under controversy and criticism. Some of it deservedly so. But the Boy Scouts I remember provided wholesome moral guidance for a lifetime. The Boy Scout behavioral code could change the world if practiced universally. It centers on doing a little extra to bring happiness to others. Just a little effort can make a world of difference to someone. In the world of doing good for others, just a little is much.
A Scout is:
Do a good turn daily.
On my honor, I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.
Paul conveyed to the Church at Ephesus God’s directive for a peaceful and healthy environment among their members. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29 NIV).
The tongue is a two-edged sword capable of raising the spirits of others or causing grief. James wrote, “Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing” (James 3:10). It doesn’t take much to make someone’s day. A kind word of praise, encouragement, or appreciation might not only improve someone’s day but change their life. “All it takes is tuppence from you.”
Try it at least once a day. In the words of Walt Disney, “That’s what it’s all about.” Doing just a little extra to make someone feel special can make all the difference in the world. In the Kingdom of Kindness, a little is much.