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, March 31, 2012

Lots of Ways to Help

     As I've mentioned in several previous posts, I've been fascinated by the proliferation of websites that help to connect volunteers with people in need.  This evening, I was doing some research and came across a site well worth checking out.  It's called Help from Home, and features links to tons of other sites where you can volunteer for as little as 5 or 10 minutes right from your own home and still make a difference in the world.  It's amazing to see the variety of activities/projects that are available.  I signed up to help with 3 different projects:

  1. The first one is called LibriVox and is an organization where volunteers read and record books for people to enjoy in the public domain.  I've volunteered to be a reader and look forward to doing my first book.
  2. The second one is called BookShare.  This is a site that helps to make books available to those with visual impairments, physical disabilities, or reading disabilities.  I've volunteered to help proofread digital books for quality.
  3. The third one is called English Out There.  This organization helps people all over the world to learn to read and speak English.  I've volunteered to have actual conversations with people, using Skype, so that they can practice their English by speaking it with someone for whom the language is native.  
  The opportunities to make a difference for others are literally endless.  Sometimes it just takes a little research to find ones that are suited to your skills, interests, and time - but they're out there.  The internet really does bring the world closer.

Friday, March 30, 2012

An Easter Play

     The other day I heard from my cousin that her two daughters were going to be performing in a children's musical, relating the Easter story, at their church this weekend.  As it turns out, my cousin was actually the "director" of the production as well, so it was not to be missed.  My wife and I went to the show's "premier" this evening.
     The children and families had worked hard over the past 5 or 6 weeks to learn their lines, rehearse the music, and build the set.  The show was your usual children's production with the expected mix of kids of varying talent and levels of confidence.  They clearly all enjoyed it and were excited to be showing off for their parents.  I was glad to be there to support my cousins and enjoyed the chance to talk with them after the show.
     It's fascinating to think about all the rituals like these that have been going on for generation after generation.  Whether they're plays or concerts, baseball games or track meets, kids are performing and parents, relatives, and friends are turning out to demonstrate their support.  It's a shame to think of those children who don't have that support that we take so much for granted.  It reminds me that I should be there as often as I can.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Helping a Neighbor

     As I was running through town this morning, on the way to the high school track for a workout, I noticed a house that had an accumulation of newspapers sitting at the end of the driveway near the street.  There were probably 5 or 6 different papers, looking somewhat yellowed in clear plastic sleeves, as if they may have been there for some time.  My first reaction when I went by was that the family must be on vacation and had not arranged to stop the deliveries nor had contacted a neighbor to take care of retrieving the papers.  We've had a rash of home burglaries in our town lately and I know that a bunch of newspapers piled at the foot of a driveway is a good clue for people that no one is home.  I decided that I would swing by later and if the papers were still there, I'd pick them up.
     Several hours later, as I was out doing an errand, I drove by to check on the house.  Sure enough, the papers were still sitting there.  After pulling into their driveway, I went ahead and gathered all the papers and brought them to the side of the house, leaving them by the garage doors, out of view from the street.  I'll make a point to go by again in another day or two.  If more papers are accumulating, I'll also let the local police know to check in on the house.
     This is one of those places where I notice a big difference in my mindset as a result of this project.  In the past, I'm sure I wouldn't have gone out of my way to address this situation, given that I don't know these people at all.  Now though, I'm much more aware of the opportunity to address any need that I see, regardless of whether or not I know the people.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Stronger Connection

     Today was the day for me to send my monthly care package to my adopted soldier in Afghanistan.    As you may remember, for the first 2 months, I didn't hear anything back from my soldier.  When it came time to send him care packages, I didn't know what he wanted/needed and so I sent pre-made packages through the Soldiers' Angels website.  Now that we're in regular communication, today's experience felt entirely different for me.
     Earlier this week I sent an e-mail to my soldier (I'll call him "L.") asking what he'd like to have.  The two things he asked for were powdered drink mix (like Kool-Aid) and peanut butter.  He said they have plenty of water, but it's nice to taste some flavor once in a while.  Off to Wegman's I went.
     I picked up a couple of different types of drink mix (Kool-Aid and lemonade), as well as some various breakfast bars for snacks.  Then I got a jar of peanut butter as he had requested.  When I got home, I packaged everything together along with a copy of my book (L. mentioned that he wanted to read it), taped it up, and went to the post office.  Other than filling out a customs form, I learned that there's actually nothing different about sending a package to a soldier overseas than sending one to a friend or family member in the States.  
     It really did feel completely different to be shopping for specific things that I know L. wants and would appreciate, and then going through the process of mailing them off myself.  I definitely felt much more connected to him in a positive kind of way.  While ordering a package over the internet is certainly convenient, it left me feeling detached.  Of course, not known anything about L. also no doubt contributed to this feeling.  Either way, it's great to know that he'll soon be getting a care package of just what he wants.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Paying It Forward

     Many years ago, I was introduced to a man who ran a very successful and innovative employee benefits agency in Seattle.  He was kind enough to invite me out for a visit and to freely share with me virtually everything he was doing.  I was deeply appreciative of his generosity, and my way of paying the debt forward has been to be as generous with others as he was with me. Whenever possible, I've tried to go the extra mile to share whatever knowledge, wisdom, and insights I may have gained - without being overly concerned about how, or even if, I was going to be compensated.  While I, of course, can't always work for free (especially since I'm now doing consulting in an "official" capacity), I still try to share as liberally as I can.  This morning was one of those times.

     A good bit of the traveling I've been doing lately has been related to my role as a "resource speaker" for an organization called Vistage.  The world's largest CEO peer group organization, Vistage is set up around groups of 12-18 members who meet monthly, in cities throughout the world, to listen to speakers and share business challenges and advice.  As an approved resource speaker, I deliver 3-4 hour workshops to many of these groups.  Based around the material in my book, I teach CEO's how to develop a high-performance culture in their organizations.
     This morning, some of the local Vistage chairs held a marketing event to give prospective new members an opportunity to experience a small "taste" of what a Vistage meeting is like.  I was asked, on a pro bono basis, to deliver a 45-50 minute program that would demonstrate the value of Vistage membership.  It was my pleasure to say "yes" and I conducted that program this morning.   From the comments I heard afterwards, I was able to hit precisely the mark that Vistage was aiming for.  
     This kind of sharing almost always become a win-win.  While members get great take-home value from my talk, inevitably some good things end up occurring for me.  I think, in some perhaps unexplainable way, this is the world's way of keeping things in balance.  As has been said in so many different ways by so many different people, the more you help others, the more you get in return.

Monday, March 26, 2012

As the Wind Blows

     Today was a windy March day - the kind of day when people's empty garbage cans blow all over the street.  As I was driving to an appointment through a neighboring town this afternoon, I noticed one such garbage can in the middle of the road on the opposite side of the street.  A made a mental note to myself that if it was still there on my return trip, I would stop and move it to a more secure location before it causes an accident.
     Sure enough, when I was returning (just 15 minutes later), the can was still rolling around in the street and cars were swerving to avoid hitting it.  I pulled over to the curb, parked, and went to retrieve the wandering garbage can.  Then I placed it on the sidewalk between two poles where it would be secure despite the wind.
     It's interesting.  This is the kind of thing that most people (including me) would typically assume that someone else (perhaps the proverbial "they"?) will/should take care of.  And yet, we are all the "they" in this instance.  There is no officially designated "garbage can picker upper" whose job it is to take care of these things.  It's only you and me.
     It reminds me of high school class reunions.  I've worked with a team of local people to plan and organize most of our high school reunions, and I've enjoyed doing it.  What always surprises me though, is when I hear people from other classes complaining about the fact that "they" (their classmates, their class officers, the school?) didn't put together a reunion; as if this were someone's official job as opposed to simply the result of a few friends deciding to organize themselves into an ad hoc reunion committee.
     It occurs to me that there are many things in life that fit into this same category - things we can assume other people should take care of.  I'm trying to be better about noticing my own tendency to fall into this trap and instead, step up and take action.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Becoming a DayMaker

     A good friend of mine recently sent me an interesting and inspiring book by a man named David Wagner.  The book is called Life as a DayMaker - how to change the world simply by making someone's day.  Isn't that a great title?  The book tells the author's personal story of how he created extraordinary success with a national chain of hair salons, by focusing on doing everything he could to make people's day.  He's gone on to conduct seminars, write, and consult on the power of this simple concept.
     What struck me most as I read the book is that the power to make someone's day is available to every one of us, regardless of our personal circumstances.  As I've experienced throughout this year so far, it can be as simple as a smile, a conversation, a gesture of appreciation, or a helping hand.  It's a choice that each of us can make every day; and it really is a choice.
     Today, I decided that I would send a copy of this inspirational book to a friend - anonymously.  I had it sent through Amazon with a gift card that read:  

     Please enjoy this book courtesy of a friend.  I hope it inspires you to make every day special.  Now make someone else's day!

     It will probably drive her nuts wondering who sent it to her, but hopefully it will indeed inspire her and cause yet another ripple of kindness to spread through the world.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Thanking Our Influencers

     As I've noted several times before, from time to time throughout this year I intend to take a moment to thank various people for their contribution to my life.  Today I chose to send a thank you note to a man who had an important influence on my own leadership style.
     For many years, I served on an advisory council for a large insurance company with which we worked.  We would meet twice each year with the senior executives of the company to exchange ideas and provide feedback.  For me, the highlight of these sessions was always the opportunity to watch and learn from the company's CEO.  He was truly an extraordinary leader, one who commanded respect not by his dynamic personality (he was anything but dynamic!), but by his personal credibility and integrity.  With his unwavering commitment to values, he inspired trust and confidence in all those who were around him.  He also possessed a great ability to explain strategy and corporate direction with wonderful simplicity and clarity.  It was a privilege to have a front row seat to observe him, as his style was a validation for me of how I thought a leader ought to be.
     It occurs to me that we each influence so many people with whom we come in contact, and in so many different ways.  In the great majority of situations though, we'll likely never know the influence we had. Once in awhile it's nice to reach out and let others know the impact they've had on us.  I'm glad I did so for this person today.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Getting to Know People

     For the last 2 nights, I was at a resort in Chicago where I was doing some business.  While it was a nice place and the service was good, I had a few problems with my room.  When I first checked in, the room felt uncomfortably warm.  I noticed that the thermostat said it was 79 degrees.  Chicago was in the midst of a strange warm stretch (in the 80's in March!), and I don't think the heat had been turned off in the room.  I put on the AC and went out to dinner.  When I returned, the temperature was up to 80, so I called the front desk to get some help.  They sent an engineer named Doug to look into it and he was able to reset the compressor to get things working.
     Well, the next day I noticed that the toilet kept making noises every few minutes as if it kept leaking and refilling itself.  To be more accurate, I noticed it the first day but kept hoping it would stop on its own.  When it didn't, it was once again time for Doug to come to the rescue.  As he was replacing the flapper inside the tank, I started to ask him some questions.  I came to learn about his family in Ohio, about his work with Brunswick bowling alleys maintaining their mechanical equipment over a several state region, about his second job doing quality control at an eyeglass company.  I learned how, as a child, he loved to take things apart to see how they were put together.  He seemed pleased that someone would take a personal interest in him and he was glad to talk.
     While some people are more extroverted and are naturally quick to engage strangers,  I'm not.  I'm usually much more comfortable being in my own little world, and while I'm perfectly cordial to strangers, I'm not likely to be curious and interested enough in them to spend the time getting to know them better.  This is particularly true with workers like Doug.  It's an area of kindness of which I'm trying to be more conscious.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

It's a Small World

       Today was another of those days where I used my computer to help someone out overseas.  I've mentioned previously the site called Sparked.  It's a site that connects non-profit organizations who need some kind of assistance with people all over the world who are willing to share their skills.  I went to the site this evening and looked through the "challenges" that were identified because they met my skill set and interests, and I chose to help out an organization based in London.
     This organization puts on different types of workshops and then uses the money they make to fund a variety of programs that support youth in London.  They had created a new website for their offerings and wanted feedback.  So far 5 other people have responded, each providing some pretty useful insights and suggestions.  I went through the all the pages on the site and made notes about a variety of issues and then provided my feedback through the Sparked site.  
     It once again amazes me to see how people from all over the world can provide meaningful help to each other while never meeting or even knowing one another.  Pretty cool.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Starbucks (almost) Always Works

     When I left home earlier this week I had intended to bring a few of my gift cards with me.  As you may remember, over the past few months I've bought a handful of $5 gift cards to Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, and McDonalds.  These come in very handy for spur-of-the-moment decisions to make someone's day.  As it turns out, I forgot to grab them out of my car where I usually keep them, so I'm traveling "naked."  
     When I arrived back at O'hare today, I noticed a Starbucks near the baggage claim area, so I decided to pick up 2 gift cards I could have at my disposal.  I noticed that I felt like a little kid!  I had liquid gold in my hands and unlimited possibilities of people to give one to.  I intended to give a gift card to a worker I saw sweeping the floor in the men's room at the airport, but he disappeared before I had the chance to give him one.  Not to be discouraged, I chose to give one to a very friendly man who was working the exit booth at the car rental agency - you know, the guy who checks your documentation before you leave.  Anyway, he had an interesting first name so I chatted with him about it and then handed him the gift card, telling him to enjoy a coffee on me.  He smiled broadly and thanked me, sharing that he had a good friend who worked at a Starbucks.
     One other observation from the last few days:  I've noticed that the vast majority of people traveling through the airports seem to be reasonably happy, and so many have been genuinely kind.  Whenever I've seen someone struggle with a bag, several people have quickly offered to help.  I've seen lots of people move seats on buses to make it easier for other passengers.  If someone drops something, strangers are quick to pick it up for them.  Yesterday through several flight delays due to mechanical issues, most people seemed much more patient and understanding than I would have expected.  I don't honestly know whether people are becoming friendlier or I'm just tuning in to it more, but it's a good thing nonetheless.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Letter (e-mail) Writing Day

     Today has been a busy day speaking and traveling.  However, I did get a chance to write my weekly letter to my soldier/friend in Afghanistan.  While I'm still sending some snail mail for making sure he has the experience of receiving mail, we're also doing more correspondence via e-mail.  It certainly gives us each a lot faster feedback.  It's been such a pleasure to now be in a regular conversation with him about all kinds of topics - school, sports, family, the army, etc.  Next week I'll be doing my next care package to him and I have some more specific thoughts about things that he might appreciate.

A point of explanation:  For those who are "subscribers" to my blog, meaning that you get a daily e-mail with the text of my post, you no doubt have noticed that there have been occasional days where you haven't gotten an e-mail or a few times where you've gotten an e-mail with 2 posts.  I thought I might briefly explain why that is:  Each night around 9:00 EST, the feed burner system sends out an e-mail to all subscribers with any updates to my blog since the previous night.  If I haven't yet had the opportunity to write my post by that time, then nothing gets sent out.  Then the next night, it sends out anything new, which would include 2 posts.  You can always see the day's story as soon as I write it by going to the actual blog site itself:

Monday, March 19, 2012

Noticing the Unnoticed

     I was at the airport in Philadelphia today and I was at the food court (the Marketplace, for those who want to give it a fancy name) getting a quick bite for lunch before catching a flight to Chicago.  As I sat down at a table with my food, I noticed one of the workers (I'm not sure what to call her) who was cleaning off tables and sweeping the floor.  She was wearing a name tag so I greeted her by using her name and I made some small, friendly conversation.  As she left to wipe off some other tables, I began to think about all the "unseen" people who serve us in a given day; and I decided to try to notice and acknowledge them more throughout the rest of the day.
     There were plenty of TSA people, gate attendants and flight attendants, baggage handlers, the driver of the rental car courtesy bus, the counter person at the rental car agency, the person checking documents as you exit the rental car lot, just to name a few.   Whenever possible, I tried to look them in the eye, use their name, and make some conversation.  In short, I tried to treat them like a real person.  It occurred to me that so many of these people usually fade into the background of my day, particularly when traveling. It's so easy to be so focused on managing the logistics of my itinerary and what I need to do, that I can get caught thinking of these people as nothing more than "tools" to help me along my way.  That sounds kind of harsh, but I suspect you know what I mean. 
     Each of these people has a story.  They have a family, friends, hopes, dreams, worries, frustrations, hobbies, and all the other things that make us human.  Today I at least tried to connect to, or at a minimum, to appreciate some small portion of their story.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Keeping the Scales Balanced

      Today I spent a number of hours employing one of my talents to help a friend.  Our work together also led me down some interesting paths in my own thinking about kindness.  Let me try to explain.
     As I talked about in a post from earlier this year, one of my "gifts" is my ability to see structure and order where others often see only chaos or confusion.  I can listen to a large amount of information, and then fairly quickly organize it into key ideas or useful categories.  The clarity that I bring to a situation often helps people to sort our their thoughts and to therefore make more sound decisions.  My work today was to help a friend in this way to achieve greater clarity about his own work, goals, and plans.  It was fun to do and I think made a difference (though we have more to do).
     In the course of our conversation about his work, and in my own reflections about my acts of kindness, I've begun to notice an interesting phenomenon.  I've written several times about my observation that often people don't quite know what to make of an unexpected act of kindness.  It doesn't fit any paradigm they have about how people normally interact.  What I'm beginning to see is that the issue is related to notions of balance and equity in our interactions.
     In most areas of our lives, we're accustomed to creating at least somewhat equal exchanges of value.  If we buy a product, we exchange money for the right to own the product.  If we hire someone to mow our lawn, we exchange money for having the service done.  And when we help other people, we have a general notion that we get something in return.  
     When what we give is reasonably small, the return may just be positive feedback, thanks, or just our own feeling of satisfaction.  As long as the service rendered is relatively small, we don't think too much about what's received in return.  But what happens when the service is much bigger?  What if I offer to give you $10,000 simply because you could use the help?  Or what if I offer to tutor your child for 2 hours every day for 6 months?  Or what if I offer to give you my car?  The bigger the service/favor/help, the more uncomfortable it can become for the recipient if they aren't in some way (financially or otherwise) repaying the favor.  While we don't normally keep a detailed "balance sheet' tracking who gave what to whom, I do think that most of us have a general notion of whether there is a sense of balance between what you've done for me and what I've done for you.
     If someone offers to do too much for us without asking for or getting something in return, we become suspicious.  Why are they doing this?  What's their "real" motive?  While my acts of kindness have mostly been relatively small, I sense a bit of this even in these cases.  People want to know why I'm doing things because it's not clear to them what I get in return.  They don't sense the balance in the equation.
     There's another implication to this whole idea about balance, and that's the recognition that it's important sometimes to allow others to be kind to me.  If I constantly do things for other people, and never ask for or accept favors from them, I actually do them a disservice because I keep the relationship unbalanced.  By never allowing them to reciprocate, I'm actually being unkind!  In a weird, ironic kind of way, focusing only on serving other people, without regard to their need to reciprocate, is actually a kind of selfish behavior.  It's ultimately more generous to consider the totality of the experience and to be sensitive to the need for reciprocity.  
     Much more to ponder here . . . and I'd be interested in your thoughts and comments on the topic.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

You Don't Bring Me Flowers

     Today seemed like a good day to make a stranger smile with some flowers.  As usual, I went to Wegman's where they have a nice selection of pre-made bouquets for reasonable prices.  I picked out a bunch of what I think were red carnations.  I know all the women reading this will laugh at the fact that I hardly know a carnation from a daffodil from a rose or a daisy, but that's OK.  They looked nice whether I knew what they were or not!
     I had decided that I would give them to someone in the parking lot who looked like the "right" person. To be honest, I'm not really sure what my exact criteria were for determining "right", but I figured I'd know it when I saw it.  I didn't really want to give them to a couple, or to a guy, or to someone who looked too rushed.  Finally, I saw a woman who looked like the perfect person.  As I approached her and offered her the flowers to wish her a good day, she seemed pleased, but also surprised - maybe even a bit confused.  She wasn't quite sure what to make of me or why I was giving her the flowers.  When I explained that it was nothing more than wanting to spread some kindness and make people feel better, she really opened up and was so happy. She revealed that she was a nurse and a single Mom and that no one ever gave her flowers. It was clear that it had genuinely made her day.
      A common theme that I've observed throughout this year is that true, unexpected acts of kindness, with no strings attached, mystify people to an extent.  It's as if they have no paradigm for how to process or understand it, so it's even sometimes hard to accept it.  I'm not sure yet what to make of that, but it's interesting to see nonetheless.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Saying Thanks With Cookies

       You may recall that yesterday I made dinner for a local family going through a difficult time as the result of a recent tragedy.  As part of that dinner, I baked one of my specialties - homemade chocolate chip cookies.  Since I was making them anyway, I decided I might as well make a larger batch and use them to thank a group that is often unappreciated - the police!
     Today I went over to the Moorestown police department and walked in with my plate of cookies.  When a woman at the front desk asked me if she could help, I explained that I wanted to give the cookies to the police to thank them for their work on behalf of the citizens of Moorestown.  She said she'd have to go find an officer and promptly disappeared behind a closed door.
     Five minutes later, a smiling sergeant emerged from the door to accept my cookies.  He wondered if I had called ahead and knew he was there because he happened to be a total fanatic about chocolate chip cookies!  I mentioned to him that too often people just complain about the police and that I wanted to say "thank you" instead.  He couldn't believe that I was bringing them in and he seemed so genuinely pleased by the gesture.  He couldn't stop smiling and he knew that the other officers would be equally thrilled.
     Once again I was struck by how such small gestures, especially when unexpected, can have such a huge impact.  It's definitely fun to create these experiences for people.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Delivering a Meal

     Regular readers of my blog may remember the post I did back in January (see Neighbors Helping Neighbors) when I wrote about a woman who was tragically killed in a car accident and all the people who had signed up to bring meals to the family.  Though I didn't know the family personally, I felt compelled to help out, so I put my name down for a meal too.  Well, today was my assigned day.
     Knowing I had a busy morning, I prepped some of the meal last night.  When I got home today, I immediately fired up the grill, put on the oven, and got right to work.  I made grilled sesame chicken (it sure smelled good!), rice, salad, watermelon slices, and bread.  And to top it all off, I baked some of my famous chocolate chip cookies for dessert.  
     When I went to deliver the meal, the father of the family was in the driveway so I had the chance to introduce myself and present him with the dinner personally.  He was curious who I was since he had seen the list of people who had committed to dinners, most of whom were friends, family, or neighbors.  When I explained that I was just a "regular" guy who read about his situation and simply wanted to help out, he was all the more appreciative.  
     I've noticed a number of times lately that people don't quite know what to make of someone doing nice things simply for the sake of it - with no personal connection and no specific reward (other than personal satisfaction).  It's as if they're trying to figure out why I would do these things.  For now, I don't worry about any answer.  I just figure the more kindness I can spread, the better, and I leave it at that.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A Fascinating Ride

     What an enjoyable act of kindness I had today!  It was my second chance to drive someone to a doctor's appointment through the American Cancer Society's Road to Recovery program.  My assignment was to pick up a man at his apartment a few towns away, bring him for his treatment, wait for him there, and then bring him back home.
     He was a delightful 84-year old man (I'll call him "B.") with a colorful history.  I learned all about how he and his 6 siblings were separated when his mother died very young. I heard how he learned haircutting from this father, heard about the barbershop he ran for more than 50 years, and even about some of his most famous customers (David Robinson, Jack Benny, Muhammad Ali, et. al.).  Amazingly, when we got to the doctor's office, one of his former customer's was there in the waiting room.  They exchanged fascinating stories about when barbershops were the places people went to socialize and share all the latest news and gossip.  
     B. and I fast became friends and he was so appreciative of the ride.  While in some ways it was sad to be in a cancer office with patients literally fighting for their lives, it was nonetheless affirming to realize that each has his/her own unique story if we only take the time to ask questions and listen.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

"Back" in Business

     I'm thrilled to report that my back is much better today and that I was able to get back out on the street to do my acts of kindness (rather than being relegated to my computer).  It was such a beautiful spring-type day that I had to do something outside, so I did something that had been in my mind for awhile.
     I grabbed a plastic garbage bag, donned a pair of work gloves, and headed over to a local community playground to pick up trash.  To be fair, the area wasn't a total mess, but it's amazing how much miscellaneous garbage is lying on the ground if you're paying attention to it.  I found lots of scraps of paper, candy wrappers, and most disturbingly, plenty of cigarette butts.  Without wanting to be sanctimonious here, cigarette butts are definitely one of my pet peeves.  I just cannot fathom how people can simply toss them on the ground as if they will somehow disappear on their own, or someone else will pick them up for them.  In any case, I picked up lots of them, filled a good portion of a trash bag, and then threw it all away.  
     The playground is a beautiful one, built by community volunteers, and it has many trash and recycle containers all around - so it's hard to imagine why there would be any trash.  But this is one of those places where what I "should" or "shouldn't" have to do is truly irrelevant.  You simply do what needs to be done.  And to be totally honest, it was such a gorgeous day, that I didn't mind at all.  It was just a pleasure to be out and to see so many families enjoying such innocent play.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Another Internet Kindness

     Well, hopefully this will be my last day for awhile where I'm stuck doing kindness through the internet rather than being out on the street interacting with real live people!  My back is improving, though still pretty sore, so I was still homebound today.  
     Another site I was turned on to by a friend is called  It's a pretty interesting concept.  When you log into the site, you choose a category of questions and a level of difficulty.  The site then asks you a series of multiple choice questions.  For each one you answer correctly, 10 grains of rice are donated through the UN World Food Programme.  The rice is paid for by sponsors of the website.  So basically, you get to play a game, test and increase your knowledge, and help reduce world hunger all at the same time.  Not a bad combo.
      I spent some time today answering enough questions to donate 1000 grains of rice.  It's a pretty simple concept that anyone can easily do to make a difference.  I'd encourage you to check it out.
     Stay tuned as tomorrow I hope to be back on the street!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Lesson from the Other Side

     Today was an interesting lesson on being on the other side of the kindness equation.  Let me tell you what I did first, though.  The back spasms I mentioned yesterday were no better today so I was pretty much unable to do anything.  Not wanting to miss a day on my commitment, I went back to Wish Upon a Hero and looked for another person I could help.  I found a young man who had lost everything in a house fire.  Friends were taking up a collection to help him get back on his feet and I made a contribution to the cause.  It may not go that far, but in conjunction with the contributions from many others, hopefully it will make a difference.
     My real learning today came from having to ask for and be the recipient of the kindness of others.  My back spasms continued to be pretty debilitating, making it difficult for me to walk or move around much.  Since I was unable to drive, by wife had to take my daughter back to college while I tried to manage at home.  At a certain point, I realized that I needed to either get to an emergency room or at least get some kind of muscle relaxant prescribed.  I really hate to ask for help (I know that can be silly), so it took a lot for me to finally give in and call my sister-in-law and ask her to get me to an ER.  Of course she was glad to help and came right over.
     As it turned out, I also called my doctor and he was able to call in a prescription to my pharmacy, which my sister-in-law picked up for me.  She and my brother also brought over dinner this evening.  I know they were glad to help, as I would be if they or anyone else called me.  In fact, it can be rewarding to know that someone needs you and that you can be of service to them.  Yet, even knowing this, it's tremendously difficult for many of us (definitely for me!) to ask for that help.  I'm sure the reasons are many and are complex - from wanting to be self-sufficient, to not wanting to impose, to a host of other factors.  One would think that since I've been so focused on doing acts of kindness this year, I'd be more sensitive to being on the receiving end.  I suspect that learning to ask for help and to receive it gracefully is as important as learning to give help.  It's something I'll be thinking more about as the year progresses.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

It's Not Always Convenient

     Time for a little honesty here.  This isn't always easy or convenient.  Sometimes it's even a pain in the neck.  Sometimes I feel some pressure to think of something to do.  Sometimes I want to take a day off.  Sometimes I don't feel like thinking about others - especially when I have my own issues going on.  But that's exactly why I created this challenge for myself in the manner that I did.  Committing myself to do an act of kindness every single day forces me to get outside of my own needs and and consider how I can help others.  And it's that daily commitment that eventually creates a habit, and that habit eventually creates a new way of being.  So in some bizarre kind of way, I almost like the tough days because that's when I learn and grow the most.
     So where did all that come from?  Today I was laid up for much of the day with some severe lower back spasms.  They came on fairly suddenly after my morning run and made it difficult to move around or even to concentrate.  My plans for the day, including a few good ideas for acts of kindness, had to be shelved.  
     Thankfully, I can still work on my computer, and there's no shortage of ways to help people through the internet.  I went to Wish Upon A Hero (a site I talked about earlier this year) and selected a person who needed help.  It was a woman in North Carolina whose husband is on disability and couldn't afford to pay their utilities this month. I contributed some money to at least close some of the gap and hopefully others will do so as well.  It didn't take long before I had a heartfelt thank you e-mail from her.  It's truly hard to imagine what it must feel like to be in that position.  That's no doubt worse than back spasms.  

Friday, March 9, 2012

Caring Cards

     As you may have noticed by some of my recent posts, I've been fascinated by the power of the internet to connect people who would otherwise never have known about each other.  Generous and creative people have set up tons of websites that allow us to help each other in so many different ways.  Today I found another great site devoted to making the lives of children struggling with illness a little bit brighter through receiving cards and e-mails.  
     The site is called Hugs and Hope for Sick Children.  If you go to the link you can read all about it.  It's a pretty amazing organization started by one woman in the Chicago area.  Like I had done with another site recently, I chose a child and sent him a handwritten note.  He's a 10-year old little boy who suffers from muscular dystrophy.  The site tells me enough about his interests that I could make the note personal.  Hopefully my card will make him smile.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Keys to Happiness

     A couple of weeks ago, I watched one of those "Ted" talks that someone had recommended.  If you haven't seen any of these, they're very short and are usually fascinating, and sometimes even inspirational.  This one happened to be by Shawn Achor, a Harvard psychology professor who has devoted his career to studying positive psychology.  Here's a link to his talk.
     In this particular talk, he discusses the impact of happiness and reveals the 5 most important practices that research shows lead to happiness.  Interestingly, one of those practices is doing random acts of kindness.  Another is showing gratitude every day.  This certainly resonates with my own experience.
     Today was another day where I decided to thank someone for a key contribution they've made to my success.  It was someone who was willing to give me a chance and "bet on me" and their support helped launch some of my current activities.  I wrote him a hand-written thank you note today, identifying the specific things I appreciated.  
     The other day I heard a song by Rodney Atkins called "Tips."  The song tells the story of a young singer who meets an older, wise man who gives him some important advice.  One of the things he tells the singer is to "treat people right on your ride up, and they'll have your back on your way back down."  Showing some gratitude to the people who help us is a pretty good step in this direction.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

E-mail Does the Trick

    Today was my regular weekly day to write to my adopted soldier in Afghanistan - but it was different from all the previous days.  That's because I've finally heard back from him - by e-mail!
     I've documented here several times how challenging it is to carry on a one-way conversation, never being entirely sure if my letters or care packages were even being received.  While the Soldiers' Angels website emphasizes the importance of keeping up the flow of mail even though you may never hear back from your soldier, it's still admittedly hard to do.  In my last letter, I decided to at least include my e-mail address.  
    Yesterday, I woke up to see that I had an e-mail from my soldier!  He was so glad I had given him the e-mail address and was apologetic that he hadn't been able to get stamps to mail anything back to me.  He was so appreciative of the letters and care packages.  I've now learned so much more about his family, his interests, and even a little about what his unit is doing in Afghanistan.  As I wrote back today, I had so much more energy and enthusiasm as there was so much for us to talk about.  
     I'll continue to send him some letters via "snail mail" because I know it's still important to have the experience of receiving mail; and of course I'll continue to send care packages.  Now I can create packages that are more tailored to his needs and wants.  In the meantime, though, score one for the value of technology in helping to bring people together!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Two Stories and Two Lessons

     Today I want to share two stories of very simple acts of kindness.  Though they were simple in scope and effort, they each had lessons for me to contemplate.     Here's what happened:
     The first story was another Wegman's grocery cart one.  As I was coming out of Wegman's today I noticed an elderly woman very slowly loading groceries into her car.  It was clearly difficult for her and so I went over to see how I could help.  By the time I got there, she was done but I asked if I could return the grocery cart back to the store for her.  She smiled and told me she'd appreciate that.  
     As I got back to my car and thought about what had taken place, I noticed that my attitude toward older people has really shifted (of course, some of this may be because I'm getting closer to that age!).  I'm embarrassed to admit that I've often gotten frustrated when dealing with many seniors.  I've usually been in a hurry and gotten annoyed that they take so darn long to do anything or to move out of the way.  I haven't always had the patience (or the sensitivity) to appreciate the challenges they face.  
     Since I'm now so much more focused on looking for opportunities for acts of kindness, seniors have become like manna from heaven.  They so often need and appreciate some help.  Of course, I've also tried to be particularly sensitive to offering help in a way that preserves dignity.  It can be demoralizing to need the assistance of others for simple daily tasks.  Offering help in a quiet, gentle way can make it easier for someone to accept that help without sacrificing their pride.
     The second story I want to share happened after I attended another high school basketball game today. Since it was a sectional championship game, there was a packed house.  Predictably, the parking lot was jammed after the game as people tried to make their way home.  Exiting the lot meant lots of rows of cars trying to merge into just one or two lanes.  I watched as some people aggressively pushed their way in front of others or refused to yield space for cars trying to work their way into the exit lane.  Whenever I saw this, I decided to go out of my way to give other people an opportunity to get in front of me.  This was always greeted with an appreciative wave.
     As I reflected on this experience, I noticed how automatic or reflexive it's become for many people to "fight" their way through crowds or traffic.  I've certainly been guilty of this many times.  By staying aggressive and refusing to yield a spot, we may get out of the lot two minutes earlier.  Is that really worth the stress, anxiety, and tension that typically accompanies an aggressive attitude?  I think not.  As I've started to focus more on kindness, I'm better able to recognize the silliness of my previous attitude.  Being kind is so much more relaxing and enjoyable.  Of course, it's nothing more than a simple shift in perspective - and it's available to all of us.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Writing to Children Across the Sea

     I have another great website to share with you.  This one also comes courtesy of my fellow blogger Eric Winger.  It's called Post Pals and it allows you to connect and become pen pals with seriously ill children.  Let me explain more about it and how I used it today.
     The site was started by two young women in England who have struggled with serious, debilitating illness for many years.  Recognizing how isolating it can be when you're homebound, and seeing how much it meant to receive mail from the outside world, they began this program to facilitate other sick children getting lots of mail.  When you go on the site, you can see pictures and read the stories of the children.  Then you can select one or more to write letters or e-mails to.  For privacy and safety, the addresses are forwarding ones, not the actual addresses of the children.  It's amazing to read the stories and also to read accounts of how much it means to them to receive mail.
     I selected one particular 6-year old boy who suffers from a serious case of leukemia.  Since there was a way to e-mail, I figured I'd do that first since he would receive my message so much faster that way.  I sent him off a nice message introducing myself, telling him a little about my family, and asking him some questions.  The site gives lots of information about his interests so it was easy to make relevant conversation.
     I've said it before, but I continue to be amazed at the power of the internet to allow people to connect with, help, and support each other in ways that would otherwise be impossible.  What a great way to share kindness.

     As a follow-up to a similar post from a few days ago (Connecting Helpers Across the Globe), I heard back from the kindergarten teacher for whom I had created the flashcards with sound.  She was so excited to get them and was eager to share them with her students.  It's amazing to think that I'll probably never meet her, and yet I was able to help her out in a very practical and meaningful way.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Community Connections

     Today was the annual Rotary Pancake Breakfast in my home town of Moorestown, NJ.  I'm not sure how many years this event has been held, but it's at least 25 or 30.  The event is co-sponsored by the two Rotary clubs in town - the Afternoon club and the Breakfast club to which I belong.  It's a fun event and is one of our biggest fundraisers of the year.
     Working alongside nearly 100 other Rotarians, I spent the morning pouring coffee, cleaning tables, putting out place settings, and chatting with lots of guests from all over town.  In addition to simply performing my assigned jobs and being nice to people, I tried to look for opportunities to be of extra assistance.  Since the breakfast draws in buses of seniors from local assisted-living communities, there were plenty of people who needed just that little bit of extra help - things like opening a container of syrup, finding a packet of Equal, or getting an extra napkin.  These weren't anything major, but done quietly and gently, they made enjoying the breakfast that much easier for some guests.
     As I left the breakfast, I was thinking about all the people I had seen and talked with who I know from so many different circles - neighbors, teachers, high school classmates, Rotarians, running friends, golfing friends, business acquaintances, and even a family for whom I babysat more than 30 years ago!  I suppose it's that sense of community, of connectedness, that draws many people to small towns like ours.  I wonder if it's in our DNA to want/need those connections, and I wonder what impact our largely transient society and its lack of connectedness has on people.  Perhaps that's why social media sites like Facebook have become so popular.  In some ways, they help satisfy the need for community in a fast-paced, mobile world.  It's still hard to beat chatting with people face-to-face, though.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Kindness Starts at Home

     When I set up my "rules" for this project, I noted that I wanted the vast majority of my intentional acts of kindness to be for people outside my immediate circle of friends and family, but that I also didn't want to overlook the opportunity to be kind to those closest to me.  Today I decided to do something closer to home.  Here's what happened:
     My wife left a couple of days ago to pick up our daughter from college since next week is her spring break.  They were due to return by mid-afternoon today.  Knowing how nice it is to return to a clean and orderly house and not to have to immediately be thrust into thinking about shopping, dinner, and other logistics, I figured I could take some steps to make that transition easier.  First, I made sure the house was straightened up and everything was put away, especially in the kitchen.  Then, I did the grocery shopping for most of the basic staples that we had run low on.  Most importantly, I then took care of every aspect of putting a great meal on the table - from shopping to setting the table to preparing the entire meal.  Afterwards, my daughter and I took care of the dishes as well.  
     I know it wasn't all that big of a deal, but that's mostly how kindness works.  It's simply the act of thinking about others and acting upon ways that we can make their day just a little bit better.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Connecting Helpers Across the Globe

      I'm really excited to write about today's act of kindness because it opened my eyes to a world of opportunities I would have never known about.  I have to thank Eric Winger, a fellow kindness blogger (click here for his blog) for this idea.  In one of his posts, he mentioned a site,, where people can easily volunteer to help a variety of non-profits.  
     The site essentially matches people who have skills and a desire to help, with people and organizations who need that help.  When you log into the site, you choose which causes you have a passion for (e.g. education, the environment, poverty, hunger, animals, civil rights, etc.), and then select which skills you have (design, marketing, research, brainstorming, copywriting, social media, etc.).  The site then matches your passions and skills with currently listed "challenges" that have been posted by non-profit organizations.  
     I responded to two challenges today.  The first was from a Canadian organization that sends medical help aboard ships to serve impoverished populations.  They were simply looking for ideas about thanking donors.  Many people had responded and I contributed some of my thoughts.
     The second challenge took a little more effort.  A kindergarten teacher in an inner-city school was looking for someone to create PowerPoint flashcards she could use to help her students learn new words.  She had posted a document explaining exactly what she wanted.  I was able to create the cards for her, based on what someone else had started.  I then took it one step further (responding to her best case scenario) and created a version that included a link on each card where the student could click to self-check by hearing the word read aloud.  I then posted both versions for her to download.  How cool is that?
     I'm continually amazed at the power of the internet to connect people literally across the globe who would otherwise have no way of ever knowing each other, communicating with each other, or helping each other (remember my post about Wish Upon a Hero).  I'm also continually amazed at the incredible generosity that most people show.  It seems to me that most people have an inherent willingness, perhaps even desire, to help others.  Sometimes it simply takes the right tools to enable that capacity to materialize.  

Thursday, March 1, 2012

My First Drive

     A couple of weeks ago I had written about signing up through the American Cancer Society to be a volunteer driver for patients who needed help getting to and from doctors' appointments.  The program is called Road to Recovery and attempts to help as many patients as possible who might otherwise have no way of getting to their appointment.  On Monday I had my program training and today I did my first "ride."
     I had been given the name and address of the woman for whom I was to drive, and according to protocol, I called her a few nights ago to confirm.  Someone else was going to drop her off at the doctor's office at 11:00, and she was expecting to be done around 4:00.  My job was to pick her up and drive her home.  I gave her my cell phone number in case she got done much earlier or expected to be much later.
     As luck would have it, my cell phone buzzed while I was having lunch with a friend.  Not expecting her to call that early, I didn't look at my phone until we were done with lunch.  Sure enough, my patient had called and was already done by 1:00!  After calling her back, I was on my way.
     When I got to the doctor's office, she was waiting patiently.  She had a walker to lean on as she moved slowly out the door and to my car.  After helping her in and folding up her walker, we made the short drive to her home.  Though I had printed directions, I had left them at home since I wasn't expecting to pick her up this early.  I wasn't concerned because I figured she could easily direct me to her house once we got to her neighborhood.  Surprisingly, she got a little confused as we got close and we had to drive around a little until she got her bearings.  I'll be driving her again next Thursday (both ways) so at least I now know where she lives!
     As I drove home after delivering her safely and accepting her appreciative thanks, I was thinking mostly about how fortunate I am to be so healthy.  As trite as it is, when people say that "if you've got your health, you've got just about everything," it's really true.  Beyond whatever form of cancer this woman had, she had so many other physical challenges as well.  Her poor eyesight, significant weight, respiratory issues, and a host of other challenges made negotiating something as simple as getting in and out of a car or walking into or out of a building extraordinarily difficult.  No doubt the routine things we take for granted as part of our daily lives present meaningful obstacles for patients like today's passenger.  I suppose the best thing I can do is to 1) help out where I can, 2) continue to take good care of myself, and 3) cherish and appreciate my good fortune.