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, April 30, 2012

Last Post from Europe

     I'm writing this post from London where I'm waiting to board a plane home, so this will be the last post from overseas.  While I may likely have more opportunities for kindness on the next leg of my journey, I figured I might as well write about this morning's events now and get this posted for the day.  Hopefully I'll be back on a more "normal" schedule by tomorrow.
     Traveling usually provides plenty of chances to help people if you're looking for them.  Sometimes it's just giving people directions, other times it's helping with luggage or assisting someone who looks confused.  This morning I was able to help two different people with their luggage on the plane.  They were the typical situations where people were struggling to get their carry-on bags up to the overhead bins and then getting them back down again at the conclusion of the flight.  These bags are usually easy to roll along, but it's an entirely different matter when you have to lift them over your head.  This is a particular challenge for older adults.  I usually keep an eye out for these situations and then lend my assistance where appropriate.  
     As I have been traveling quite a bit lately, I've actually been quite surprised at how often I see people who are friendly, helpful, and courteous.  In fact, the vast majority of people are usually pleasant and helpful.  It's another reminder to me that the world is mostly filled with nice people.  And of course, our own orientation also influences what we see.  If we're cynical and critical, we'll usually tune in to that and find it wherever we look.  Conversely, if we're positive, kind, and courteous, we're far more likely to find that wherever we look.  I'd rather choose kindness.


Sunday, April 29, 2012

More French Flowers

     We arrived in Marseilles, France this morning – our last port before getting to Barcelona and heading home tomorrow.   The excursion I signed up for was a ride through the French countryside to a town called Aix-en-Provence.  It’s a beautiful city that was founded by the Romans more than 2000 years ago.  After walking around the city and visiting the many bakeries and outdoor markets, I decided that I should make one last attempt at giving flowers to a stranger in Europe.
     With all the outdoor markets, it was easy to find a place to buy a nice, yet inexpensive bouquet.  This time I even knew what type I bought – yellow roses!  Flowers in hand, I went looking for just the right person to give them to.  Right away I saw a young girl (probably about 10 or 12 years old) being pushed in a wheelchair by her father.  I offered her the flowers but her father declined, and moved past me.  I suspect he didn’t trust me and was being suitably protective of his daughter.  Undeterred, I continued my search.
     I was looking for a single woman as I thought it would be awkward to offer the flowers to a woman who was with her husband/boyfriend or to two women since I only had one bouquet.  After about 5 minutes, I saw a middle-aged woman who looked like she was visiting the markets alone.  I walked up to her and offered the flowers.  At first she declined them, not sure what I was doing.  Thankfully she spoke a little English and I explained that I wanted her to have them and to have a nice day, at which point she asked, “Don’t you have a wife or girlfriend who would want them?”  When I explained why I had bought them, she finally accepted them with a smile and her thanks.  Then she said she wanted to give me a kiss on the cheek, after which we each went our own way, happier for the exchange.
     While it’s admittedly a ridiculously small sample size on which to base any conclusions, I suspect that strangers probably don’t react to unexpected acts of kindness much differently in Europe than they do in  the U.S.  At first, most people are suspicious, not understanding what I’m up to and wondering what the catch is.  Once they realize there is no catch, though, they typically accept it with a smile and sincere thanks. 
     One last observation:  Once again, I was so focused on doing my act, that I forgot to take advantage of the potential “pay it forward” opportunity.  I could easily have asked her to do something nice for someone else today in exchange for the flowers and I think she would have been totally fine with that.  In fact, it may even have made it easier for her to accept them, as she would have been “paying” for them in some way, rather than simply accepting a free gift for no reason.  Oh well.  I’ll have to keep working on that.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Flowers in Saint-Tropez

       Our ship arrived in Saint-Tropez, France this morning and by 10:00 or so most people had been transported to shore by a series of “tender” boats.  Saint-Tropez is one of those European seaside resorts where the super-wealthy dock their massive yachts.  It’s an old town with narrow cobblestone streets, tons of cafes and restaurants, and artists selling their paintings on the sidewalk.  The large outdoor markets finally gave me the chance to do an act of kindness I had been thinking about for the past few days.
     What I had wanted to do was to buy some fresh flowers and offer them to a stranger.  I was curious to see if there would be any difference in reception in Europe vs. America.  As it turned out, my plans changed slightly so I’m still not sure of the answer.
     I found a market where they were selling flowers among many other things, and I chose a couple of different ones from which to make a bouquet.  As usual, I have no idea what kind they were, but there were purple ones and white ones.  Though the vendor didn’t speak any English I was able to convey what I wanted easily enough.
     With my bouquet in hand, I wandered the streets of Saint-Tropez looking for just the right person to give them to.  If they didn’t speak English I wasn’t sure how I was going to explain why I was offering them flowers.  After a little while of looking, I switched my plans a little and decided that instead of a stranger, I would bring the flowers back to the ship and give them to our housekeeper, Oka.  She’s always so pleasant and cheerful and does a great job; and I figured she’s probably never gotten flowers from a guest before.
     When we made it back to the ship, Oka happened to be in the hallway near our room so I had the perfect opportunity to present them to her.  As I approached, she asked if I wanted a vase, assuming they were to go in our cabin.  She seemed surprised and pleased when I said they were for her and that I wanted to thank her for taking such good care of us.  With a smile, she accepted them and said she’d put them in her cabin right away.
     It felt great to provide Oka with the flowers, though I’m still curious about whether strangers might react differently here than in the U.S.  Tomorrow is our last day before heading home, so I might just try that one again if the opportunity presents itself.  We’ll see . . . 

Friday, April 27, 2012

What About Beggars?

      Today our ship arrived at the Mediterranean island of Sardinia.  After disembarking from the ship, we boarded some buses and toured the island, stopping in a variety of small villages and harbor towns.  As luck would have it, my opportunity for kindness came in an unexpected way.
     I got to talking with a few of the people on the bus and ended up meeting 2 couples from Tennessee who are heavily involved in an amazing non-profit organization that provides humanitarian aid to villages in Southeast Asia, especially Cambodia.  One of the men actually runs the organization (as his full-time job).  In fact, he goes there for a few weeks at a time, 5 or 6 times each year.  Here’s their website: www.peopleforcare.org.
      When I went online to check it out later, I decided I’d make a donation to their organization.  I generally want as close to all of my kindness acts to be for specific people rather than causes or organizations, but I don’t mind making some exceptions from time to time.  This was one of those times where it seemed particularly appropriate.  It’s exciting to meet people who are so committed to “doing good” that they devote a large part of their life to a specific mission.  There’s a lot to be learned from people like that.
     The last stop on our tour of Sardinia this morning was at the port city of Olbia.  It’s a classic European city with narrow cobblestone streets, tons of shops, and a chaotic mix of cars, pedestrians, and cyclists all competing for the limited roadway.  As I ambled up the street, I saw a man sitting in front of a wall, holding out his hat to collect money from anyone who would give it to him.  He looked at me pleadingly as I walked by.  He was the only beggar I saw, so it wasn’t like the images you see in parts of Asia. 
     I always feel conflicted when I see people like this.  Regardless of how they got there, they’re obviously at a point so low that most of us cannot even fathom.  Then there’s the question of whether throwing them some spare change can make any difference whatsoever. 
     I thought about it some more as I continued past him, and decided that on my return trip to the parking lot I’d give him so money.  Sure enough, he was still there, and when I gave him so money he seemed so thankful.  He shook my hand and smiled.  Who knows how much difference it made, and chances are that he’ll be there tomorrow again; but it still felt right to at least be kind to him and help keep him from going hungry for one more day.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Helping Quietly

     We docked this morning in the beautiful Italian port city of Sorrento.  After taking a “tender” (small boat) from our ship to the actual pier, we boarded a bus for the ancient ruins of Pompeii.  I found a couple of opportunities to be kind along the way.
     Pompeii is a pretty amazing place with large portions of the town still intact after 2000 years.  The streets are mostly cobblestone, which can be a little difficult to walk on at times.  There was one woman in our group who has some physical challenges that made navigating some of the streets somewhat difficult.  Several times I provided a hand to assist her in getting up or down some of the higher curbs or steps.
     After Pompeii we drove back to Sorrento and then got on a shuttle bus to take us back down to the pier.  Since it’s such a short ride, the bus doesn’t have very many seats and many people had to stand.  I was quick to give up my seat to an older woman so she could be more comfortable.  Immediately afterward, I saw several men offer to do the same for other people.  Some acts of kindness are as much about courtesy as anything else.
     One of the things I’ve noticed about offering someone a helping hand, is that there’s a fine line between giving help and making someone feel uncomfortable or incapable because they needed help.  It requires a certain sensitivity to what they may be feeling.  Sometimes it can even more kind not to help them if this allows them to more readily maintain their dignity.  I’ve tried to stay sensitive to this recognition in two ways.  First, I try to offer my help in a quiet, unobtrusive way that doesn’t call for attention.  Second, if someone I offer help to declines that assistance, I respect their desire for self-sufficiency and I don’t push the issue further by insisting they let me help.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Expressing Thanks

     Well, I had a great plan in mind for today in Rome, but I never had the opportunity to do it.  We spent the day doing a Segway tour of the city, and by the time we had finished the tour and a late lunch, we needed to make our way back to where we were to meet the bus that would take us back to the port and our ship.  In fact, we had to practically run through the unbelievably crowded streets, hoping that the bus wouldn’t leave without us.  There was no time to stop and do m planned act of kindness – so I’ll keep it in mind for tomorrow or the next day.
     Truth be told, getting onto the Segway tour wasn’t easy.  They only offered tours at 9:30 and 2:30, neither of which would work with our transportation to and from the port.  Rather than give up, we talked to the Executive Concierge (Carmen) on board our ship to see if she could reach out to the Segway company and convince them to make a special tour for us at 11:00.  To make a long story short, Carmen was able to make it happen and she even printed walking directions to help get us from the bus drop off point to where we needed to meet the tour guide.
     It ended up being an awesome tour, notwithstanding the sprint to make the bus for the return trip.  When we got back onboard, I made a point to go back to Carmen to thank her and to give her feedback for future guests.  She seemed genuinely thrilled to hear all about it and appreciated my taking the time to fill her in.  She said that she had been thinking of us during the day and was eager to know what happened.
     This incident reminded me of a conversation I had with my sister earlier this week.  She was describing a situation in which she had given a significant amount of time to a neighbor assisting him with an important issue.  The person never showed even the slightest gesture of thanks or appreciation.  It’s such a simple thing and yet makes such a difference.  I’m glad I took the time to thank and acknowledge Carmen for her efforts on our behalf.  I do think it made a difference for her.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Helping a Shopkeeper

     Well it’s clear that my opportunities for acts of kindness this week will not be easy to spot.  One of the primary reasons for this is that we’re on a cruise where your every need is quickly taken care of by a large, service-oriented staff.  I’ll just have to get a little more creative.  I have some ideas for our day in Rome tomorrow, but for today, I had to settle for a small act of kindness I did in the town of Lucca, Italy.
     We were to take a bicycle tour of Lucca this morning, but the weather was pretty raw – chilly, rainy, and windy.  With nearly everyone in agreement, our tour guide suggested a walking tour of this ancient, walled city, rather than trying to maneuver on bikes.  At one point on our stroll, I was walking past a small shop when I saw the wind blow over the cardboard pieces to an outdoor display.  I immediately began to pick up the pieces and restack the simple arrangement.  Despite the shopkeeper’s initial protestations, I helped him pick up the rest of the pieces so he could get back to his customers.
     It obviously wasn’t that big of a deal but it’s still part of the kindness mindset – always looking for opportunities to help people.  Stay tuned tomorrow for a more interesting story.

Monday, April 23, 2012

From Students to Teachers

     Today was the first official day of our cruise as we boarded the ship and moved in to our cabins this afternoon.  We’ve already met lots of friendly and interesting people.  As we sat talking with a nice couple from LA during lunch, the conversation landed on my kindness project.  They were fascinated by what I was doing and commented about how our children can’t help but be influenced by the example we set . . . and this got me thinking.
     I realized that if we’re lucky, we get to experience the amazing transformation of our relationship with our children.  We spend so many years taking care of them, guiding them, teaching them, helping them to develop both the skills and the value system that will enable them to lead independent and successful lives.  And then, one day we realize that they’ve transformed from little children to teenagers to young adults to full-fledged adults.  And in some ways, they become our friends and our teachers. 
     Today I wrote notes to both my children, letting them know how proud I am of them both and how thankful I am to have them as friends and mentors in their own rite.  I’m a pretty lucky father and I wanted them to know it.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Blogging from the Road

     For the next 10 days or so my blogging may be a bit sporadic as I'll be on a cruise in Europe and can't be sure of the reliability of internet access from day to day.  For now, I'm actually in Monte Carlo (!) and am able to get on the internet for the first time.
     I'm traveling with my sister and our first day was spent mostly flying through the night and arriving in Monte Carlo pretty jet lagged.  After getting into our hotel, napping, working out, and having a late dinner, I'm finally getting a chance to post this before bed.  I didn't see any particular great opportunities during the day today (to be honest, I was probably operating at half-speed), but didn't want to use traveling as an excuse for not honoring my kindness commitment.  Thankfully, as I've written about before, the internet can always be used to find ways to help people.  Tonight I decided to visit Wishuponahero.com, and look for a wish I could grant.
    Choosing a woman in Massachusetts who is disabled mother of 3, I read about her need to buy summer clothes for her children.  I went online and bought her a gift card to Target and had it sent to her with a note from me.  
     In many respects it's a strange juxtaposition.  I'm at a hotel in one of the wealthiest areas in the world.  Parked in front are Ferraris, Bentleys, Lamborghinis, Rolls, are more.  And then I read about the real life struggles of people like the woman whose wish I helped to grant.  She (and many like her) struggle on a daily basis just to make ends meet in the most rudimentary kinds of ways.  Regardless of whether this contrast is "fair" or "right" or any other adjective we may want to choose, I think it's important to stay grounded in the reality of the challenges people face and to pitch in to help where we reasonably can.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Amateur Photographer

     This morning I was in Philadelphia to run a 5k race.  As I went through my warmup and then returned to my car, there were lots of people milling around getting themselves ready.  Next to my car was what appeared to be a large family all set to do the run.  Seeing that they were taking pictures to commemorate the event, I offered to take one so that they could all get in the same picture.
     When the race was over and I was making my way back to my car once again, I saw a tourist couple trying to find just the right place to get a picture in front of one of the statues near the Philadelphia Art Museum.  I asked them if they'd like me to get a picture of the two of them.  In broken English, they thanked me and showed me which button to press on their camera.
     In most families, it seems like there's always one person who takes most of the pictures, and as a result, they're not actually in very many pictures.  In any tourist area or even any special event, you can usually spot who the regular photographer is in each group.  It's such a simple, and yet appreciated, favor to offer to take that group shot so that everyone can be included in the memory.

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Gift for a Friend

     When I was working out at the gym this morning I saw a friend of mine who I hadn't seen in awhile.  She mentioned to me that she still has to read my book, and then jokingly added that she was waiting for her free copy.  Then she quickly noted that she was only kidding and that she intends to buy a copy.  Since I usually have an ample supply of my books and CDs at my house, I decided I would deliver one to her as a gift today.
     I inscribed a personal note on the inside cover of the book, and when I was out doing some errands this afternoon I swung by her office to drop off the gift.  Though she wasn't in when I stopped by, I was able to leave it with her assistant to deliver.
     While I obviously can't always give free books to everyone, I candidly make so little on book royalties that I'm much more interested in people reading, enjoying, and benefiting from my book than I am interested in the money.  Hopefully she'll enjoy it as much as everyone else has and, like others, want to get copies for others she thinks could benefit from it as well.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Little Experiment

     From time to time I've mentioned in my posts the "pay it forward" concept.  The idea is quite simple:  rather than paying someone "back" for a kindness done to you, you can pay it "forward" to someone else; and if everyone did this, kindness would rapidly spread in a viral fashion.  Most of the time, I've simply done my act of kindness and have hoped that the recipient might consider doing something nice for another in return, though I've rarely suggested it explicitly.  A few times I've included a note that asked the question, "What can you do today to make someone else's day just a little bit brighter?"  That's as close as I've come. 
     Since this year is about trying different things and seeing what happens, I thought I might try a little experiment to see if I could more overtly suggest paying it forward, without ruining the essence of my act of kindness.  I conducted my first such test today.  Here's what happened:
     On my way home this evening I stopped at a 7-11 store to buy a bottle of Gatorade.  After my purchase I was standing in front of the store opening my drink when a woman pulled into the parking lot.  By her dress, she looked like she might be a nurse just getting off work.  I pulled out one of my Dunkin' Donuts gift cards (there was one right next door) and asked her if she'd like a $5 gift card to Dunkin Donuts.  She smiled and looked at me a little quizzically.  I told her that my only condition was that she do something nice for someone else today.  She answered, "I'll definitely do that.  I'm a really nice person" and she gladly took the card. 
     Obviously I'll never know whether or not she actually carried out her promise, but the fact that I asked and that she said she would certainly have to increase the odds pretty significantly.  I'm pleased to see that it was easy to make that stipulation and I didn't feel like it lessened the "purity" of my act of kindness in any way.  I think I'll continue to try to add this element to as many of my acts as is reasonably appropriate.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Continuing Support for Our Troops

     In a recent interview I did, I was asked to identify which act of kindness has been the most fulfilling so far.  This really is a hard question to answer because I've done such a variety of different types of acts for different types of people, each with its own kind of reward.  However, if I had to pick only one, I think it might be the "adopted" soldier I have in Afghanistan.  I say this for several reasons:

  1. I know (from what I've been told) that letters and care packages from home mean the world to our troops overseas.
  2. I get to see/hear/read the impact it has in a firsthand way.
  3. We've created an ongoing relationship vs. a one-time incident.
     Well today was my day to write my regular note to my particular soldier.  I write every single week (sometimes e-mail and sometimes snail mail) and I send a care package once/month.  Since my last letter was sent through the post office, today I sent an e-mail.  It does have the advantage of getting there much faster and often generates a quick response.  My soldier is actually about to be going on leave for two weeks next month and he's excited to be back in the States and with his fiancĂ©.  
     While it's never my intention to use this blog to raise money or push for a particular cause, I will occasionally mention a website or an organization that I think readers may want to check out.  There are a number of different sites that facilitate the process for writing to our soldiers.  The one that I used is called Soldiers' Angels and if you have any interest in this type of thing, I'd encourage you to check it out.  I think you'll find it very rewarding, as I have.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Kind Day

     Today was one of those days where nothing exceptional happened but I tried to do a variety of small, kind things throughout the day.  In some respects, that's really what this project is all about -- cultivating a mindset of kindness so that it permeates everything that I do.  In any event, let me share 4 simple things that I did intentionally.
     As I got out of my car at Wegmans this morning (I'm really not there every day!), I noticed an older woman at her car struggling with some heavier grocery bags and trying to load them into her car.  Approaching her cheerfully, I asked if I could offer some help.  She accepted and I helped her put the rest of her bags into the car and then returned the cart for her.
     This afternoon as I was coming home, I passed a school that must have just completed some type of sporting event or other function.  There were lots of cars trying to exit their parking lot.  Knowing how hard it can sometimes be to get out of a lot, I purposely stopped and allowed 3 or 4 cars to ease out onto the road.
    I attended a meeting tonight where I had volunteered to talk about the American Cancer Society's Road to Recovery program.  This is the program through which I've driven patients to their doctors' appointments.  More drivers are always needed so it's important to let people know the program exists and how they can volunteer to help.  I think we may have recruited at least one new person tonight.
     On my way home from that meeting, I stopped at the new Frozen Yogurt place on our Main Street to surprise my wife with a cup of her favorite flavor yogurt.  Our usual place no longer carriers her flavor, so this was a real treat.  (Of course, I got myself some, too.  No reason I can't be nice to myself!).
     None of the things I did was earth-shattering.  But here's the thing I'm really beginning to notice:  When I go through my day just trying to spread kindness wherever I am, even in the smallest of ways, the day seems to work that much better and I feel that much happier.  I think that by forcing myself to do something kind every day (by virtue of this project), I'm creating a habit, and by creating a habit, I'm changing both how I "show up" in the world, as well as how the world "shows up" for me.  Interesting to contemplate. . . 
     

Monday, April 16, 2012

Flowers at the Hospital

     One place where I haven't yet been on my kindness journey is to a hospital.  That is, until today.  By their very nature, hospitals must be filled with lots of people who are hurting and could use cheering up.  I figured that flowers from an anonymous stranger might just be the right prescription.
     Swinging by Wegmans, as usual, I picked up a colorful bouquet of fresh spring flowers.  Don't ask me what kind they were because I honestly don't know!  Anyway, I wrote out a note to go with the flowers that said, "An anonymous friend is thinking of you and hoping you're feeling better," and I headed toward our local hospital.
     Not being that familiar with hospitals, I wasn't quite sure exactly how I was going to do this.  I walked into the main lobby and found a busy reception area.  When a woman asked if she could help me, I answered, "yes."  Handing her the flowers and note, I explained that I wanted to give them to some patient that she thought could use some cheering up, and that I would leave it to her to determine the best recipient.  She said she thought that was "so nice" and turned to show the others at the reception desk.  I was gone with little fanfare - in and out in less than 2 minutes.
     As with all the anonymous acts, I'll never know who got the flowers or how it impacted them.  I hope that my note causes them to wonder which of their friends may have been the anonymous donor and therefore to think kindly about the people who may be in their life.
     Another notable thing happened as I was leaving the hospital that's worth mentioning.  A woman, who was perhaps a visitor, saw and heard me deliver the flowers.  As I walked by her, she half-jokingly asked "where are my flowers?"  While I believe this was said mostly in jest, it does reflect an interesting point of view.  Her first thought was not about what she could do for others or how she could also deliver flowers for someone.  Rather, it was about why she wasn't getting what someone else was.  Had I thought of it at the moment, I might have asked her what she could do to make someone else's day.  It might have been a fascinating, and possibly impactful, exchange.  Unfortunately, it all happened so fast that I didn't think more about it until a few minutes later.  
     There have been a few instances like that this year where I've been so focused on accomplishing what I set out to do, that I didn't stay present to the situation at hand and as a result, missed out on an opportunity to have a bigger impact.  I'll have to work on that.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Kindness and Forgiveness

        I read a blog post the other day from a writer who was identifying 15 things that happy people do differently from unhappy people.  The list included things like love vs. fear, trust vs. doubt, praising vs. criticizing, kindness vs. cruelty, and taking responsibility vs. blaming.  One of the items on the list that struck me as interesting, though not necessarily surprising, was "forgiveness vs. unforgiveness" (I'm not sure that's actually a word).  It got me thinking about the importance of both forgiving and asking for forgiveness, and prompted me to share the following story:
    Almost 17 years ago, I met someone on an Outward Bound wilderness adventure in the mountains of Montana.  The man lived in Minnesota and, when our trip was over, invited me to come visit he and his family if I were ever going to be in his part of the country.  While many people say things like this, I knew that he meant it.  
    Sure enough, over the following 10 or more years, I had a number of occasions to be going through Minnesota and I stayed with this friend and got to know his family well.  Our friendship blossomed and I always looked forward to the visits.  
     To make a long story short, something happened along the way to cause a break in that relationship and I've not seen or heard from him since.  In all honesty, I have no idea what it was and to this day, it hurts me to think that I inadvertently did something to cause the break.  I think of the family often and wish there were a way to repair whatever damage was done.
     Well today, I decided to try.  I wrote them a letter asking forgiveness for anything I may have done and for the chance to "clean up" whatever mess I/we may have made in the relationship.  I thought carefully about how to strike the appropriate tone and hope that it's received in the right way.  Time will tell, I suppose.
     I imagine many of us have similar relationship "messes" we may have created or at least contributed to.  Cleaning them up is likely to be as kind to the other people as it is to ourselves.  I can readily understand why this made the list of 15 things happy people do differently from unhappy people.  Wouldn't the world be a happier and kinder place if we could ask for and grant forgiveness to each other?
    

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Time and Kindness

     This morning was our official "opening day" tournament at the club where I play golf, Riverton Country Club.  The tournament was to start at 8:30 and so I wanted to be there by 7:45 to hit some balls and warm up first.  Unfortunately, after all the flight delays I had last night, I didn't arrive home until around 1:15 a.m., so I was moving pretty slowly this morning.  By the time I left my house it was already pushing 8:00.  I had thought about buying a whole bunch of hot pretzels to give to all the caddies but that would have taken me in the opposite direction and I wasn't sure I could make it in time.
     Fortunately, there's a Dunkin' Donuts on the way to the club, so I stopped in there and bought a ton of those "munchkin" donut holes for them to enjoy.  When I swung into the bag drop area, I gave them to one of the caddies and he put them in the "shack" where they gather before going on the course.  It wasn't a big deal -- just a simple gesture of appreciation for their efforts.
     As I was driving toward the club debating whether or not I had time to get pretzels, donuts, or nothing at all, it occurred to me how much time can factor into our willingness to be kind.  Often, when we're rushing, not only do we not want to take the time to go out of our way to help another person, but we're often annoyed at others because they become obstacles slowing us down from getting where we're trying to go.  If I had seen someone with a flat tire, or someone who needed a ride, or even just directions, I might not have stopped to help because I was behind schedule.  However, if I saw the same need but had plenty of time, I would be much more likely to stop and offer my help.  
     I tend to be pretty careful about punctuality and making sure I'm where I say I'll be when I say I'll be there.  However, I often seem to be pushing the envelope because I end up leaving my house just a shade later than I intend.  This doesn't allow much room for unexpected kindness.  I'll be curious to see how my response to kindness opportunities changes when I do a better job of giving myself more time.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Kindness on the Road


   As I was traveling home from Little Rock through Charlotte and on to Philadelphia today, there was no shortage of opportunities to be kind.  Among the things I did intentionally today, I’ll mention three of them here:
     As is usually the case, the boarding process for my flight began with those needing special assistance.  On the first leg of the trip there was an older woman who had great difficulty walking.  She was wheeled down the ramp and then slowly made her way onto the plane.  When I took my seat, I found that I was only one row in front of her.  Noticing that she had struggled to put her handbag in the overhead compartment above her, I made a mental note to be sure to help retrieve her bag when the plane landed.  Sure enough, I was able to quickly reach it for her when we arrived in Charlotte.  She seemed surprised, not thinking that anyone had noticed or would go out of their way to help. Hopefully I was able to make her travels just a tiny bit easier.
     When we landed in Charlotte, I navigated my way through the airport to the gate for my next flight.  On my way, I passed a mother taking a picture of her young daughter, as if it might have been her first trip to an airport.  I stopped and offered to take a picture of the two of them, to which the mother readily agreed.
     My third act was really a series of acts.  More specifically, I made a point to look at the nametag of each worker that I encountered and to use their name in conversation, even if it was simply to thank them.  This included several TSA employees in Little Rock, the gate personnel at each airport, and the flight attendants on each flight.  I’ve talked about the importance of using people’s names before and am always struck by the way in which it changes the quality of a routine exchange.  The other person magically becomes a real human, instead of just a role.  It’s such a simple gesture, but it does seem to inject a bit of humanity into the mostly impersonal process of moving millions of people from one place to another.
     I want to take a moment to thank the many people who wrote me e-mails and posted comments about yesterday’s story of Jeff, the world’s most amazing men’s room attendant.  He truly was remarkable and an inspiration.  Please also continue to share this blog with family, friends, and co-workers who you think might benefit from reading daily stories of kindness.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Surprise in the Men's Room?

      I’m sitting in the airport in Charlotte waiting to board a plane to Little Rock, Arkansas and though I may not get to post this until later tonight, I’m so excited about an experience I had this morning that I need to write about it right now. Here’s what happened:
    My flight from Philadelphia arrived here a good 45 minutes early so I have plenty of time before my next flight departs.  After departing the airplane, I stopped at the nearest men’s room.  In most the of restrooms in the Charlotte airport, they have attendants who hand out paper towels and things like that, and of course, they have a tip jar sitting there.  I usually find this a bit annoying since I can get my own paper towels and don’t like feeling obligated to leave a tip for something I didn’t need or want.  This time it was different though.
     Everyone who walked in was met with the most enthusiastic greeting by the attendant.  Wearing a name tag that read "Jeffrey", he smiled and joked with everyone and seemed to be about the happiest guy I had ever seen.  I don’t know that I’ve ever seen someone so full of genuine joy.  I made a little small talk with him and then was on my way.  As I headed on the fairly lengthy walk to the E terminal for my next flight, I couldn’t stop thinking about how unusual this man was.  It occurred to me that I was missing an opportunity to meet someone special and so I turned around and headed all the way back to where I had been 10 minutes earlier.
     When I got there I introduced myself to Jeff and told him that I was so impressed with his enthusiasm and wanted to know more about him and his attitude.  He told me that he figures “heaven and hell are right here on earth” and he “might as well choose heaven.”  “There ain’t no other way,” he said.  He told me that he just chooses to spread love every day.  “I could be shoveling *&^%* and I’d do it great,” he explained.  He truly was a remarkable man.  As I gave him my Kindness card and told him that I wanted to write about him, a man who had overheard our conversation walked by and told Jeff that he was inspiring a lot of people.  He said that while I was going to write about him, he was going to tell his team at work about Jeff!  I gave Jeff a healthy tip and we shook hands.
     After writing all this, I realized that I should have gotten a picture of him.  So I walked all the way back one more time (!) and he posed for the picture I’ve included with this post.  I was hoping he’d be around when I pass through again tomorrow night so I could learn more, but he told me that he’s off on Fridays and Saturdays.
     There’s so much that’s great about this story.  Of course, the heart of it is Jeff and what we can all learn from him.  I’ve often said that greatness is a choice.  Jeff makes that choice each and every day.  As he noted, he’d choose to be great no matter what he was doing.  Kindness is also a choice.  Like greatness, we all have the ability to make that choice regardless of our job, our age, our socio-economic status, our religion, our nationality or anything else.  It’s simply a choice we make.  And it’s a daily choice.  No matter what choices we may have made in the past, we can choose to be kind today.
     The other thing that was significant about this story was that I didn’t let the opportunity to get to know Jeff pass me by.  I almost did.  I met him the first time and left without making the effort to connect in a deeper and more personal way.  After all, he was just the attendant in a men’s room in the Charlotte airport.  And I was already 10 minutes away by the time I started to consider it more seriously.  It would have been much easier to simply keep going. 
     But to think of Jeff as just a “men’s room attendant” would be completely missing the point.  He’s an amazing, energetic, enthusiastic, soulful man who’s making the world a better place every single day.  And I’m better for having gotten to know him just a bit. 
     One final thought from this morning’s encounter:  I wonder how many other times we “label” people by their job and, as a result, fail to truly consider the fullness of their humanity.  I’m going to try to be better about that in the future.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Responding in the Moment

     As I think about the acts of kindness that I've done this year, it occurs to me that they can broadly be divided into two "buckets."  Many of them I might call "surprises" in that I offered a totally unexpected kindness to someone, often a complete stranger.  Providing a Starbucks gift card, giving someone flowers, bringing hot chocolate to school crossing guards, or delivering pretzels to the firehouse all fit into this category.  Other acts, while they still might not be expected, are done as a direct response to a perceived need.  Driving a cancer patient to a doctor's appointment, helping someone with their groceries, buying diapers and baby supplies for teen mothers, or even picking up trash at a playground are all examples of this.
     Each type of act has its own impact (and its own reward).  It's fun to light up someone's face and really make their day with a surprise gesture of kindness.  It can change their whole orientation to the world which, in turn, can change what they do.  On the other hand, there's nothing quite like seeing a need that I can fill, and just going with it.  Often it's catching someone at a vulnerable point and doing something to make a difference.
     Today's act was a very simple gesture that was a response to seeing a need. I was coming out of a 7-11 store and as I approached my car I noticed an older, heavyset woman struggling to the curb.  She had trouble walking and, believe it or not, negotiating the high curb that separated the parking lot from the sidewalk in front of the store was a major challenge.  Seeing her struggle, I immediately walked over and offered my help.  I let her lean on my shoulder and assisted her up to the sidewalk.  She was so appreciative of the help and thanked me several times.  It was one of those small moments that really are the essence of kindness.  It was also a good reminder that we don't have to do anything creative or magical or expensive.  Simply looking out for one another and offering a helping hand when needed can be more powerful and meaningful than a more elaborate gesture.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Skipping Lunch

     When I set up the rules for my kindness project, I noted that most of the time I wanted to help people directly, rather than simply making a donation to a cause, however worthy it might be.  From time to time, however, I'm OK with a donation, particularly when it's a really cool organization.  I want to tell you about one of those organizations today because it's such a brilliant, but simple, idea.  That organization is called Skip1.  Here's a link to their website.
     Skip1 provides money for food and clean water projects around the world.  The money is donated by thousands of people who decide to "skip 1" thing that they would normally do, and put the money they saved toward these projects instead.  People can skip anything from a meal out to a Starbucks coffee to a round of golf to a pair of shoes or a massage or a haircut or virtually anything else.  Everyone can certainly skip something one time, and that's the beauty of the idea.  You get to choose what's right and appropriate for you, but we all can do it regardless of our circumstances.
     As I was on my way home from a meeting that lasted all morning today, I was hungry and was thinking about stopping somewhere for a bite to eat.  Instead, I decided to "skip" it, eat something we already had at home, and donate the money to help feed others through this organization.  What an easy way to make a difference!
     Over these last few months I've been amazed to learn about a growing network of people and organizations that are spreading kindness and goodwill throughout the world.  While the news so often focuses on all that's wrong, there are so many generous people doing truly remarkable things to make a positive difference.  From time to time I'll share some of those with you, as it's both heartwarming and inspiring.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Sharing Some Insights

     A couple of weeks ago, I received an e-mail from a former business contact asking if I might be willing to meet for coffee or lunch one day.  Though I didn't know what the purpose of our conversation was, I was more than willing to meet.  There have been so many people who have been willing to share with me throughout my career, that I'm usually agreeable to meet with almost anyone with hardly a second thought.  Today was our day to meet.
     The person I met with is roughly the same age as me and owns his own business.  He's wrestling with a variety of strategic options and wanted to better understand some of what I went through over the past several years as I considered (and ultimately completed) the sale of our business, and as I transitioned to a new phase of my life.  I know how helpful it can be to hear from other similarly situated people who may have already experienced what you have yet to face.  It's hard to beat the wisdom that comes only from experience.  For this reason, I'm usually particularly open, honest, and transparent when engaging in these types of conversations; and I certainly was that way today.
     I think our conversation was helpful for this person, and I offered to assist in any way that I can in the future.  I suspect it was comforting to him to know that there is guidance available as he tries to navigate his own path.  I had also promised to send him some addition information that I thought would prove helpful and I did this as soon as I got home.
     Conversations like these are fun for me as they give me a chance to "pay forward" some of the kindness which was extended to me at critical points in my own career.  Hopefully this person will do the same for another somewhere down the road.  He is that kind of person so I would expect he's likely to do so . . . and another wave of kindness will have been sent out into the world.

By the way, I did drop off those diapers  today at the non-profit social service agency I mentioned in last night's post, and I also filled out an application to do some volunteer work for them.  

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Making a Diaper Run

     Sometimes people ask me how far in advance I plan my acts of kindness.  The answer is that most of the time when I wake up in the morning, I don't yet know what I'll do.  Sometimes an idea comes to me during the day, and sometimes I simply respond to a situation I see.  Today I decided that it might be nice to buy diapers that I could donate to a non-profit social service agency I know that helps teen mothers, among many others.  I'm honestly not sure why that idea popped into my head this morning, but it did -- so I went with it.
     On my way home from enjoying some golf (yes, that's a recurring theme) on this sunny but windy day, I swung by a local Walmart store figuring they'd likely have some good deals on larger quantities of diapers.  It does feel a little weird for me to buy diapers, partly because it's been so many years since our kids were of that age, and partly because I think my wife usually bought them way back then.  I didn't even know how sizing works, much less anything else.  In any event, I bought 3 large boxes, one each for size 3, 4, and 5.  Even at a Walmart, they weren't cheap and it amazes me to think how difficult it must be for many young families, let alone teen mothers, to afford this virtual necessity.  Tomorrow afternoon I'll drop the diapers off at the agency so they can quickly get into the appropriate hands.
     Last night, I had the pleasure of being interviewed for a national audience on Fox News Channel (still trying to get the link for that video).  One of the questions the host asked me was whether it made me feel good to do these acts of kindness.  Of course the answer was "yes", but it got me thinking more deeply about this phenomenon.  I would suppose that it's universally true across virtually all of humankind that we feel good when we do a kindness for others.  In fact, some research suggests that it's one of the key components in creating our own happiness.  
     I wonder if there's a biological purpose to this.  Much like sex feels good probably in order to promote procreation, might it be the case that doing kind things for others feels good to promote a more cohesive or cooperative society?  There's no question that when people are kind to each other things tend to run more smoothly and successfully than when people are mean, angry, or vindictive.  Maybe we're really biologically programmed to be kind and the good feelings we get when we do so are a form of biological feedback that tells us we're on the right path.  An interesting thought to contemplate.  I welcome your thoughts and comments.
   

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Say It With Pretzels


     Every Easter in our town, the volunteer firefighters from one particular station hold a flower sale to raise money for their annual activities.  We always try to support them and, in fact, just yesterday my wife brought home some flowers she bought there.  Volunteer firefighters are certainly some of the most amazingly selfless people in this world.  Think about what it must be like to stop whatever you're doing on a moment's notice to dash off and put yourself in sometimes dangerous situations - all for no compensation other than the satisfaction of knowing you're helping to protect your community.  Well today I decided to do just a small gesture to say "thank you."
     On Main Street in Moorestown we have a great Philly Hot Pretzel place where you can get the best soft pretzels literally right out of the oven.  As if to prove my point, when I stopped by there this afternoon, I had to wait 5 minutes or so because the next batch of pretzels were still baking.  When they were done, I bought 15 piping hot pretzels and drove over to the firehouse where the flower sale was being held.
     Milling around were 6 or 7 firefighters, looking like they had probably been working the flower sale since first thing in the morning.  I walked up to one of them and told him that I wanted to thank them for all their efforts on our behalf, and I gave him the bag of hot pretzels.  As you might imagine, that immediately got the attention of the rest of the crew as it was near lunch time and they were probably all pretty hungry.  Leaving them to enjoy the unexpected treat, I slipped out and headed on my way to run some other errands.
     I find that these types of small gestures are really fun to do.  They're so unexpected, and perhaps for this reason, so appreciated.  It never hurts to say thank you -- especially with pretzels (!) -- to those who do so much for our community.
     

Friday, April 6, 2012

Cleaning Up Trash

     It was a beautiful Spring day today so I decided it would be a good to spend some time outdoors cleaning up trash from a playground.  I had arranged to play golf with some friends mid-morning, and since I would be passing an area park on my way home from the course, I figured that would be as good a place as any for my act of kindness.  Knowing this was my afternoon plan, I threw a pair of work gloves and a plastic trash bag into my car as I headed out.
     When I pulled into the playground parking lot and got out of my car, the first thing I noticed was some loose change lying on the ground.  I picked up the change and put it in my pocket, figuring if I found the right young person, I could give it to them as a surprise treat.  With my gloves on and my bag in hand, I began to work my way through the parking lot toward the playground, picking up trash as I walked.
     It's surprising that even an area that looks reasonably clean at first glance is often strewn with more trash than you can imagine.  When you're there to clean it up, you start to notice it everywhere you look.  I picked up tons of empty bottles, cigarette butts, hamburger wrappers, loose papers, straws, bottle caps and a variety of other discarded items.  It truly is hard to imagine how people can simply toss their trash on the ground, especially when there are lots of garbage cans distributed throughout the entire park.  Regardless, I've worked hard to refrain from judgments as I do my acts of kindness and today was no exception.  Other than that brief thought which was more curiosity than judgment, I just focused on picking up what was there.  I probably spent 45-60 minutes cleaning up and filled most of a garbage bag.
     By the way, I did find a cute young girl playing on the seesaw to whom I offered the loose change.  She was so happy to accept it.  The best thing though, was that 20 minutes later she brought me some trash that she had picked up to be thrown into my bag!  Perhaps my simple example had a meaningful impact on her.


Incidentally, my project has received some nice coverage lately.  For those who may not have seen the article in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Wednesday, here's a link to it.  Also, the project was featured on CBS Eyewitness News this evening. Here's a link to that piece.
   

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Positive Energy

     As you might imagine, the article that appeared in yesterday's Philadelphia Inquirer (here's a link to it), generated a pretty significant response.  I've had quite a number of e-mails, calls, and messages from people, many of them strangers, who seemed to be touched by my project.  It's yet another reminder to me that most people are inherently good, and that kindness strikes a resonating chord inside almost all of us.
     One of the e-mails I received was from a local woman who noted that the article really spoke to her and wanted to know if I would be willing to get together with her as she really wanted to talk and compare notes.  I know from experience that it takes a certain amount of courage to reach out to a total stranger and request a meeting.  Understanding this, I try to be as approachable and accommodating as I can, and I try to respond in a personal way to everyone who writes to me.  After all, shouldn't kindness start right there - when people are actually asking for help?  I offered this woman some times that I would be available and we met this morning.
     We had a thoroughly enjoyable conversation getting to know each other and I suspect, as is most often  the case, that we both benefited from the experience.  Without trying to get too spiritual here, and without even truly trying to understand it, I do think that when like-minded people share time together, a certain type of positive, reinforcing energy is spread.  It's as if both people are strengthened in their resolve.  I suspect this is why it's so energizing to be with a group or a team or an organization where people share a common commitment.  When that commitment is to kindness, it can be powerful indeed.