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

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Giving Directions and More?

     Today I was presented with one of those easy opportunities to be kind, but I missed out on a chance to do more.  Let me explain.
     I was heading to our local YMCA this afternoon where I was to have lunch and give a talk at 12:15.  As I parked and got out of my car, I noticed a woman driving around the lot looking confused.  When I stopped to ask if I could help, I learned that she needed directions to a nearby store.  I explained to her what she needed to do but, to be honest, she still seemed a bit confused.  I tried to repeat the directions for her as clearly as I could (several times!), and I'm hopeful that she was able to get there.  Unfortunately, it was about 12:10, so I didn't have time to do more without being late. 
     If I had had just a few extra minutes, I would have gotten back into my car and told her to simply follow me since the store was quite close.  That would have made it really easy for her and reduced her stress level.  In this case, though, my desire to provide more help bumped up against my value for punctuality.  As the invited speaker, it felt wrong to me to show up late.
     This experience led me to a couple of thoughts.  First, it got me thinking about time.  As I mentioned a few days ago, having more time allows me to go that extra mile to provide more help to someone.  I want to be careful to make the distinction between "arbitrary" time constraints and "real" ones.   Sometimes I set goals for myself as to when I want to accomplish a list of errands and I arbitrarily create time constraints.  When I relax these and realize that there's usually no harm in slowing down, it frees me up to be more helpful to others. 
     Real time constraints are those times in which I have limited flexibility because I made a specific commitment to be somewhere at a particular time and others are counting on me.  To be truthful, sometimes even these can become more flexible, as long as I have the chance to call and check with the other person.  I may have made a commitment that really isn't critical to that person, though I can't assume that without checking.
     The other thought I had from today's experience is that there is often an extra step we can take that can make a bigger difference.  Having the person follow me to her destination is much more helpful than simply offering directions.  Perhaps I could have at least written them down or drawn a simple map for her as I did have the time for that.  Over the coming days, I'm going to try to notice if there is a further step I can take to make a bigger difference for people, rather than just being satisfied at the initial level of help.

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