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

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Wrong Place, Wrong Card

     Today was my final day of “pre-season training” with 2012 just hours away.  And for now the 3rd day in a row, I made some changes to my original plan for the day as that plan bumped into “real life.”  And also for the 3rd day in a row, those changes revealed new lessons for me.  It will be interesting to see how often changes like this take place.
     While I want to be careful not to have most of my acts require money, I had decided that today I would buy some $5 gift cards to Starbucks and give out a couple of them to strangers.  I stopped at our local Starbucks on Main Street and bought ten gift cards, figuring they would always come in useful somewhere along the line.  Cards in hand, I left the store and began to stroll down Main Street trying to decide how to choose an appropriate recipient.  As I said a pleasant “good afternoon” to those I passed, it occurred to me that I am too often guilty of quickly judging people based on how they look.  Even more telling, I too often form a negative opinion of people who don’t look like me or my type of friends. 
     To help me combat this tendency, I decided that I should give a gift card to someone who I normally would think negatively of and typically avoid.  It wasn’t long before I saw an older man who was poorly dressed, unshaven, smoking (I really dislike smoking), and riding a handicap electric cart.  He wasn’t smiling and didn’t look pleasant.  Just what I was looking for.  I stopped him and asked him if he’d like a gift card to Starbucks.  His response surprised me— “No, I don’t ever go to Starbucks.”  Well that didn’t go how I expected!  But I was still determined to follow through with my plan, so I continued to walk further up the street.
     After 10-15 minutes of strolling, unable to find someone who looked sufficiently unlike me, I realized that I was in the wrong place, using the wrong card.  Main Street in Moorestown, NJ is mostly filled with people just like me, most of whom go to Starbucks regularly.  If I wanted to brighten the day of a different type of person, I should go to the shopping center at the “other end” of town, buy some cards from Dunkin’ Donuts, and stop in at the Laundromat.  And so that’s exactly what I did.
     I bought some $5 gift cards at the Dunkin’ Donuts that anchors one end of the shopping center and then walked to the other end where the Laundromat is.  Sure enough, it was filled with people who were not my typical friends.  I picked out one older man who was walking out pulling a whole cart of clothes and asked him if he’d like a gift card to Dunkin’ Donuts.  His face lit up as he responded, “Sure, I love Dunkin’ Donuts!  I go there just about every day.  What’s this for?”  I simply told him I wanted him to have a nice day, after which he smiled, shook my hand, and wished me a Happy New Year.  Mission accomplished.
     As I got back in my car and reflected on what I had learned, I decided that I would use the Starbucks gift cards mostly as “thank yous” while I would use the Dunkin’ Donuts ones mostly as simple ways to brighten the day of a stranger.  Since I still needed to stop and get gas on my way home, I figured I could use one of the Starbucks cards to say “thank you” to the gas station attendant who is always so friendly at the place where I prefer to fill up (New Jersey is one of the few states where all gas stations must be full service only).  After my tank was full, I gave him my credit card for the gas, and the gift card with my thanks.  He seemed appreciative, though it was such a quick exchange that I honestly couldn’t gauge his reaction.  It didn’t really matter anyway as my goal was about the gesture, not the reaction.
     Well, tomorrow is January 1st and marks the “official” start of my kindness project.  The past 3 days have been perfect preparation—giving me a chance to practice both doing intentional acts of kindness, as well as writing about my observations and reflections.  I can’t wait to discover what lies ahead!    

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