There’s an expression that’s used when a person does something kind for others and receives a thank you or some other accolade for their action. The “doer” might say, “it’s the least that I can do.”
Recently, I got a chuckle when a colleague provided lunch for a meeting and she used that expression after being thanked for her kindness, but she added a line. She said “it’s the least that I can do and I always do the least that I can.”
It was funny and we all laughed. It was thought provoking too, so much so that the group in the meeting discussed this odd expression for five minutes.
Why do we say “it’s the least that I can do,” and we accept the “least” as a good thing?
The portion that she added provided context to the statement. It is the least and we often aim to do the least that we can do, instead of the most that we can do. Her act of kindness was appreciated and really wasn’t the least that she could do, it was the most in this case.
Typically, doing the most means doing the bare minimum to get by. My colleague actually did a great deed and went the extra mile to order, pay for, pick up and deliver each person’s meal. So you see, it wasn’t a perfunctory gesture at all, which is what this saying or expression denotes.
Her words made us all think. What if we all aimed to do the most that we can do instead of the least? What would that look like?
Maybe it’s showing up to work an hour early or staying an hour later, without being asked. Maybe it’s doing an act of kindness for those you don’t know. It might look like holding your tongue instead of gossiping. Or, it may indeed mean treating a group of people to lunch.
Only you know what your “least” or “most” looks like.
So the next time, someone thanks you for a deed, and it crosses your mind to say “Oh, it’s the least that I can do.” Think about it, do you really only want to do the least you can or do you want to do the most you can?