Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.
- Leo Buscaglia

Monday, December 16, 2013

Making New Loans

     I'm back again . . . I know it's been awhile since I've posted a kindness story.  I've been doing acts of kindness here and there, though not with the consistency (not that I intended to) that I had last year.  I've got some thoughts germinating for a 2014 project, so stay tuned for that.  In the meantime, here's a quick story from today.
     I've written before about one of my favorite sites, Kiva.  This is a site that facilitates making micro finance loans to borrowers all over the world.  For as little as $25, any of us can participate in a loan being made to a person, usually in a 3rd world country, who might not otherwise have access to capital.  Lending organizations on the ground actually make the loan, and Kiva serves as the intermediary to aggregate contributions from and repayments to tens of thousands of lenders like you and me.  It's truly an amazing site.
     This evening I participated in two new loans.  The first was for an 18 year old man in Palestine who has opened his own small store to do maintenance on electrical machines.  He's borrowing $1900 to buy tools for his work and he'll be repaying it over 28 months.
     My second loan was for a woman in Armenia who sells perfumes to local people to help support herself and her 2 children.  She's borrowing $750 to buy more stock to resell.  She'll be repaying the loan over 26 months.  
     I've now participated in 15 different loans.  Eight of those have been fully repaid and all the others are paying back on schedule.  In fact, the default rate on these loans is something far less than 1%!  How amazing is it that any of us can easily participate in helping people all across the world?!
     By the way, a great holiday gift to consider is to give someone a Kiva card.  Kiva will send them a notice of your gift and then the recipient goes on line and chooses a loan they want to help fund, using the money you contributed.  This gets others involved in making loans and making a true difference.  I did this for both my children last year.  Check it out.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Easy Traveling

     How often do people complain about traveling, especially about the airlines?  Well I've been traveling almost every week for the past year, and I have to say that most of the airline personnel I've seen are actually pretty good.  Of course, like any job, there are some bad ones who seem sullen or bored, as if they just don't care.  But I've encountered even more who really seem to want to do a great job.
     Yesterday, I got home from a trip to North and South Carolina.  My US Airways flight from Spartanburg boarded on time and without issue.  We took off slightly early and landed in Philly about 20 minutes ahead of schedule.  We didn't have to wait for a gate or any gate personnel to show up and we deplaned quickly.  As I walked through the terminal on my way to baggage claim, I made a 10 minute stop at the US Airways Club and had a snack and a soft drink.  By the time I got to baggage claim, my bag was already sitting on the belt waiting for me.  As is often my custom, I went over to the baggage claim office and reported that I had no issues at all and thanked the agent for seeing that my bags came quickly and easily.  The agent seemed quite surprised to have someone stop in just to report good news, but after she got over the shock she broke into a big smile and thanked me for letting her know.
     I continue to be reminded on a daily basis that I'll see in the world pretty much what I'm looking for.  If I look for examples of dishonesty, poor attitudes, lousy service, pain, and misery, I'll surely see them all around me.  But if I look for examples of decency, goodwill, kindness, good service, and helpfulness, I see them everywhere I look.  Given a choice (and we all have a choice), I'd rather look for the latter.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Donating Time and Expertise

     Yesterday I spent the morning conducting a 3-hour workshop for more than 30 local non-profit organizations, as part of a regional HR association event.  This was one of those requests that always seems less disruptive many months before the event.  In fact, I had agreed to do it more than 6 months ago, when nothing that far into the future could possibly be that big of a deal.  However, in a week in which I traveled across the country and back, and in which I was juggling many other (paying) client commitments, it wasn't my top choice for how to spend my first day back home.
     Nevertheless, I made it a point to block out all distractions and to simply be present to doing my best job in the moment.  The audience deserved nothing less than that.  
     When I got home later in the day, I was reflecting on two thoughts.  The first was the importance of the "abundance mentality" I wrote about one time last year.  By that I mean thinking of the world as an abundant place and thinking of my capacity to serve and to give to others as plentiful, rather than limited.  When I think from a perspective of limits or scarcity, I tend to want to more carefully dole out kindness.  However, when I see kindness as something I don't have to conserve or limit, I'm able to give more freely.
     The second thing I was reflecting on was one of the "Fundamentals" I used to teach in my former company.  It was called, "Practice A+ness as a way of life."  This Fundamental is about having intense pride in the quality of what I do and making sure that my work reflects the highest standard of which I'm capable.  On days when I'm tired, or less motivated, it's my passion for A+ness that pushes me to still deliver a high quality talk or to provide my very best thinking to a leader that I'm coaching or to a company for which I'm consulting.  While the audience might not perceive it as less than my best, I would know.  And that's really what A+ness is about -- a deeply personal commitment to excellence, even if no one were to know but me.  

Thursday, July 11, 2013

A Bruegger's Kindness Story

     I know it's been a few months since I last posted an update to this kindness blog.  For those wondering where I've been, the answer is:  pretty much everywhere!  Just in the past 3 months, I've done work in Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale, Kansas City, Dallas, Akron, Buffalo, Omaha, Philadelphia, NY City, Seattle, Miami, Washington DC, Chicago, Providence, Atlanta, and Phoenix, to name a few!  I've continued to practice acts of kindness, though haven't made it a priority to do so without missing a single day.  And obviously, I haven't written much.  However, something happened today that I thought was worth sharing, and hopefully it will get me writing again more frequently.
     I was in Phoenix for the past several days giving a couple of talks and visiting my sister and my parents.  Before leaving for home, I decided to get some of my favorite Bruegger's bagels to bring back to NJ. (We no longer have any Bruegger's anywhere near us and so I try to pick some up anytime I'm traveling to a city in which they still exist).  I called them this morning and ordered 2 dozen Honey Grain bagels to be picked up around 9:00, on my way to the airport.  
     Though I hadn't yet been to that particular shop, the directions were easy and the exit was literally right on my way.  Somehow though, I must have been daydreaming and completely missed the exit.  Before I knew it, I was arriving at the car rental return for the airport, and I didn't have time to go back and find the Bruegger's and still make my flight.  While disappointed about the bagels, my bigger quandary was feeling bad about having placed an order and then "stiffing" the store.  After a few minutes of thought, I decided that I should call the store and give them my credit card and tell them to charge me for the bagels anyway.  But the story doesn't end there.
     When I called, they put me through to the catering manager, a woman named Felicia.  Upon hearing the situation, Felicia asked me what time my flight was.  Then she suggested that she could drive the bagels to the airport and meet me in front of the terminal from which I was departing!  Sure enough, that's what she did.  I'm actually writing this post on the flight, and looking forward to having plenty of great bagels to enjoy over the coming weeks!
     As I reflect on what took place, I have a few observations.  First, I was thinking about integrity.  I sometimes think of integrity as doing the "right" thing, even when no one's looking.  No one (except for me) would have ever known if I never paid for the bagels I ordered.  They didn't even have my last name, and I could perhaps justify it by assuming that the bagels would eventually be sold throughout the day.  Still, it didn't feel right.  Integrity, I think, is most often a very personal thing.
     The other interesting observation was how my kindness (doing the right thing) was so readily reciprocated.  I certainly had no expectation at all that the bagels would be delivered to me at the airport.  In fact, it hadn't even occurred to me as an option.  But as I observed throughout the past year, kindness is contagious.  It's pretty cool to see.
     I'll try to be more regular in my writing in the coming months, despite my continued crazy travel schedule.  

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Some Thoughts on Boston

     I've been traveling extensively lately and have not taken the time to post stories with the regularity I had hoped (a luxury I'm granting myself after "officially" completing my challenge on the last day of 2012!).  However, the events surrounding Monday's tragic bombing at the Boston Marathon have really compelled me to reflect and I wanted to share some of those thoughts here.
     When I wrote my year-end summary on January 1st, I listed five key lessons I learned from my year of kindness.  One of the most significant of these lessons was that there is much more kindness in the world than we think.  My experience was that the world was filled with amazing acts of kindness but that their stories were not told as frequently as were the stories of crime, evil, and tragedy.  The disproportionate amount of airtime that negative stories get can cause us to have a distorted view of how most people really are.  So how do I make sense of this week's events in light of my observation about human nature?
     For me, the aftermath of the marathon was, and continues to be, a shining example of exactly what I had concluded.  While many will point to this senseless tragedy and wonder what's wrong with our world, I am as heartened by the incredible stories of compassion in the bomb's aftermath as I am heartbroken by the tragedy itself.
     For a variety of reasons, this event impacted me in a more personal way than many of the horrible things you see or read about in the news.  It might be because of my role as a part of the running community, and a previous Boston marathon competitor myself, or maybe because I had friends who were there, but it really hit me hard.  I was returning to my hotel in Florida, listening to the details on the news, and I literally sat in the parking lot and wept.  (This is pretty rare for me).  
     And yet, within hours I was hearing so many stories of caring and compassion shown by emergency workers, healthcare professionals, race officials, fellow athletes, spectators, local residents, and more.  There was an overwhelming display of generosity on the part of so many people, eager to do whatever they could to assist and care for those in need.  While I don't have the words to describe or understand why some crazy individual would hurt so many innocent people, it was likely one person (it now appears).  Balance that against the thousands and thousands of people in Boston and around the country who are showing solidarity in their kindness, and it only reaffirms for me the notion that there is far more kindness in the world than we often recognize.  
     Beyond the exceptional events that follow tragedies like this week, I continue to see lots of examples of kindness that people all around me show to each other every single day.  It's all around us, if we're looking for it.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Helping Travelers

     I was coming home from Orlando yesterday and as I navigated my way through the Orlando airport I overheard a young family trying to figure out how to get to the gate from which their plane was departing.  Since I knew the answer to their question, I spoke up and explained the directions to them.
     This is one of those very simple things that I might have ignored in the past.  While it's true that I overheard their conversation, and it's also true that I knew the information about which they were confused, it would have been just as easy to stay inside my own little "bubble", rather than offering to help.  Since I tend to be a more cerebral person anyway, my natural inclination is to be on my own path, in my own world, and not to break outside of it for strangers.  In fact, this is one of the tendencies or habits I wanted to work on changing through the 369 consecutive days of kindness last year.  I wanted to learn to extend myself more, especially to strangers, and to find ways to spread more kindness.  Hopefully yesterday's small act was an indication that I'm making those changes.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Pretzels for the Workers

     Every Easter, the volunteer firefighters in our town sell spring flowers as a way of raising additional funds.  You can see them in front of the different firehouses, doing a brisk business if the weather is good.  As I was coming home from a kindness talk I gave to a Rotary club this afternoon, I passed the firehouse and saw the activity.  It reminded me that I had intended to swing by our soft pretzel store on Main Street and buy a bunch of warm pretzels for the workers, but by this point I was already past Main Street and on my way home.                 
     Nevertheless, I doubled back and returned to the pretzel store and bought 20 of pretzels, fresh out of the oven.  Then I parked a couple of blocks from the firehouse and went to deliver them.  Having lived in town as long as I have, I know many of the firefighters and was glad to greet them personally with my gift.
     Small tokens like these are a nice way to show some appreciation for the sacrifices these people make.  It's the least I can do.

Monday, March 25, 2013


     I've been a little remiss in my writing lately, so I'll try to get back on track here.  It was a rather wet, snowy, sleety kind of day in NJ today and I felt bad as I pulled into a gas station in town to fill up my car.  NJ is one of those few states where you can't pump your own gas, so an attendant had to stand out in the nasty weather filling people's cars for them.  That can't be much fun on a day like today.  Anyway, when I was done and the young man was handing me my receipt, I thanked him by giving him a McDonald's gift card.  He was really surprised and appreciative.
     Those who know me well, know that I hate tips.  It's not that I don't appreciate what people do.  Rather, it's that I hate the unknown aspect of tips. You never know what's expected, what's reasonable, what's cheap, etc.  I'd rather just be told what the price of an item is and have it include any and all service.  Or better yet, I'd love it if there were a clearly communicated scale that we all understood with appropriate amounts for poor, average, good, and outstanding service.  Then I could rate the service I received and compensate appropriately.
     As much as I hate the places where tips are "expected," I enjoy the opportunity to give a little something (like today) where it's not expected.  This gives me a better chance to really make a difference in someone's day.  I suspect that gas station attendant doesn't expect nor does he get many tips.  He likely went home tonight feeling pretty good, with an extra bounce in his step.  Not that the gift card was so huge, but simply knowing that he was valued and appreciated.
     My daughter is a tour guide on her college campus.  A couple of weeks ago she was given a $10 tip by someone who participated in one of her tours.  This was totally unexpected and so it had a significantly larger impact on her.  I don't doubt that she felt just a little bit better about life for the rest of that day.  That's pretty cool to be able to do that for someone.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Looking for a Restaurant

     I stopped by our local grocery store to pick up a couple of items, and as I got back into my car and prepared to start the engine, I noticed a man in the car next to me had his window rolled down and seemed to be motioning to me.  So I got back out of my car and went to see what he wanted.  It seems he was waiting for his wife to finish her shopping and, since he wasn't from this area, he was looking for a recommendation for a place to have a nice meal.  I asked him a few questions to get a sense for the kind of restaurant he wanted, and then was able to give him a good recommendation and pretty explicit directions for how to get there.
     Isn't it strange that we're so often hesitant to ask a question of a total stranger?  I'm not quite sure why that is, but for some reason, most of us tend to feel uncomfortable approaching a complete stranger.  I was glad that this man apparently had no such discomfort, because it allowed me to be of help, and perhaps at some level, it also allowed me to show that most strangers are more than willing to be plenty helpful, if we only ask.  It was fun for me to help, and he got what he was looking for.  

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Extra Step

     I was having dinner with someone the other night and our conversation led me to mention a couple of my favorite books on the topic we were discussing.  My friend hadn't read the books in question but wrote them down because he was eager to check them out.  I believe he was sincere in his desire to read them, though my experience tells me that life has a way of getting in the way of our best intentions.
     I also know from experience that I'm more likely to read a book that's been sent to me than one I don't currently own and have to go out and purchase/borrow.  So I went ahead and bought the books on Amazon (I do love Amazon) and had them sent to my friend for his enjoyment.  Taking that one extra step to send the books, rather than simply mentioning them, can make all the difference in the world.  
     That whole experience got me thinking about how often there's one little extra step that can make the difference in so many situations.  Do we tell someone how to do something or do we actually coach them through doing it?  Do we give someone directions or do we lead them to where they need to go?  To we utter a simple thanks or do we send a nice, handwritten note?  Do we say we should get together sometime, or do we pull out our calendars and make a date?  In almost every situation, it seems to me, there is always more that can be done to help.  It's an interesting challenge to consider that thought and to take on doing that "extra step."