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

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Essence of Kindness

      Today I had the chance to do one of those small gestures that I think are the essence of kindness.  Let me explain what happened and why it was important.
     I was driving up a busy road past the post office in Moorestown on my way to mail a letter.  About a block past the post office there are 3 mailboxes that you can pull up alongside to drop off your mail.  As I put my envelope in the mailbox I noticed a man parked on the other side of the street waiting for a break in traffic so that he could get out of his car, cross the street, and send off his mail.  Seeing this, I went to his car and offered to take care of it for him.  Having done this, as we both waited to get back into the traffic flow, he gave me a nod and a wave of thanks.
     The reason this small act was important is that it was a reflection of something I likely wouldn’t have done in the past but which has now become second nature.  I’ve noticed that there are things that are so right in front of us that almost any of us would help out.  For example, if someone were carrying a stack of books and you saw the person drop them, most of us would quickly offer to help.  I've noticed that almost all people are quick to hold the door open for others.  But what about the opportunities that aren't right in front of our nose?  The ones that require us to go out of our way a bit, or sometimes even to stretch out of our comfort zone.  Most people would not go across the street to offer help when it's not solicited.  And yet, I'm coming to believe that that's the essence of simple kindness.  It's about all the little things we do to be nice to each other and to help each other out.  
     It also seems to me that when we're nice to each other, the world just seems to feel like it works more smoothly.  Almost like a lubricant in our interpersonal dynamics.  And like most things, it seems that the more we practice kindness, the more it becomes habitual.  And that's a good thing.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Providing A Lift

     This morning I drove a patient to a doctor's appointment as a part of the American Cancer Society's Road to Recovery program.  I've mentioned this program in previous posts and it's rapidly becoming one of my favorite acts of kindness to do.  It's clearly one of those great examples of a kindness that benefits both the giver and the recipient.
     My assignment was to pick up a patient from a nearby town and drive her to her doctor's office.  As is the custom, I called her a few days in advance to introduce myself, give her my cell phone number, and let her know what time I'd be picking her up.  Though I got there a few minutes early this morning, she was ready and waiting for me.  Walking is not easy for her so I helped her to the car and we were off.  As we drove, I learned all about her family, we exchanged stories, and it even turns out that her cousin is a friend of mine from Moorestown.  When we arrived, I helped her inside and she couldn't thank me enough for my assistance.
     I think the reason I enjoy this activity so much is that I can so readily see how much the help means for those in need.  Imagine how challenging it must be to deal with a diagnosis of cancer and then imagine that you have no way of even getting to your doctor appointments or treatments.  This is a truly valuable service.  But the other reason I so enjoy it is that I meet the most interesting people.  They're almost always happy to talk and they have such fascinating things to share.  Definitely one of those "win-wiin" situations.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Memorial Day - Extended

     When I was writing about Memorial Day yesterday, and I was reflecting on the sacrifices that so many have made to protect our way of life, it occurred to me that, in addition to our military, there are many other people who make similar sacrifices and deserve our appreciation.  High on the list of such people are our police officers and our firefighters.  Today I decided to send a personal thank you note to a longtime member of our local police department.
     It's hard for me to even imagine the difficult job that most police officers have.  Not only do they put their lives on the line each day, but they also make tremendous family sacrifices throughout their careers.  And more often than not, we tend to complain about the police or seize upon stories in the news about police corruption of misdeeds.  Rarely do we hear the real stories of the amazing commitment to their communities that most officers demonstrate on a daily basis.  
     While I could have sent something to the entire department (I did make cookies for them earlier this year), I decided this time to opt for the more personal message that a handwritten note would carry when addressed to a specific individual who I know.  Hopefully it will help him to realize how much his efforts are appreciated.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Appreciating the Sacrifice

     This being Memorial Day, I've been thinking about the thousands upon thousands of American soldiers who have sacrificed so much to serve our country, particularly in times of war.  While many were drafted over the years, it amazes me even more when I think of all those who volunteered to put themselves in danger to protect our freedoms and way of life.  (I know there are many who make similar sacrifices - police officers, firefighters, etc. - but today I'm thinking about our armed forces).  It truly is remarkable.
     It's nice to see the public express gratitude toward our soldiers.  It's not unusual these days to witness someone buy a soldier a cup of coffee in an airport or to simply walk up and thank them for their service.  Today I decided to write a note to someone I know who volunteered to serve our country despite the dangers of two active wars.  In fact, he took a break from college to enlist because he believed it was the right thing to do.  While his friends were drinking beer and going to classes, he was jumping out of airplanes and preparing to fight for our country.
     It's easy to talk about acting on our convictions, especially when they don't involve much sacrifice.  Being willing to put yourself in harm's way to serve others, though, strikes me as an entirely different level of commitment.  Thankfully, Americans have always been willing to step up to that commitment when the situation has demanded it.  So many thousands have died fulfilling that commitment.  I don't know that we can ever thank them enough.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Surprise for the Next Guest

     It was a hot and humid Sunday afternoon in NJ and after playing golf I decided to go to one of my favorite places, Rita's Water Ice, to get something to cool me down.  I love Rita's because the water ice is packed with flavor, not like the old snow cones I remember getting as a kid.  Anyway, I decided that Rita's would be as good a place as any for an act of kindness.
     I ordered one of my favorite flavors, Alex's Lemonade, and when the server handed me the cup and told me the price I explained that I also wanted to pay for the next person who comes along wanting a water ice.  She smiled and told me that was "so sweet."  She wanted to know if I meant just someone ordering Alex's Lemonade or any water ice and I responded that I wanted to pay for any water ice.  I told her to let the person know that it was paid for by an anonymous stranger.
     I suppose the cynical among us might wonder if the server will actually follow through with my request or will simply pocket the cash.  I always work from the assumption that people are good, fair, and honest (Fundamental #9 from my book), and I'm pretty confident she'll follow through.  Hopefully it will turn out to be one more ripple of kindness sent out into the world today, and perhaps it will even have started a larger chain reaction of kindness as well.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Granting Another Wish

     Over the past months, I've several times mentioned the extraordinary website Wish Upon A Hero.  It's a site that helps to connect people who have needs (small and large) with people who are willing to help them out.  Amazingly, in the 5 years since the site was started, more than 91,000 wishes have been granted.  Tonight, I decided to add to that number.   
     I read on the site about a man whose niece suffers from a serious brain disease.  One of the few pleasant things the niece is able to experience is  being pushed in a stroller around a local lake.  The man is trying to raise money to buy a tandem bike/stroller that will enable the family to more easily take the niece for rides.  It was my pleasure to be one of a number of people making contributions to help the family to be able to purchase this item.
     One of the observations I've had over this year is that most people are inherently kind and want to help each other out.  Taking the time to read the stories posted on websites like can renew your faith in the decency and generosity of people.  As we all know, the news is so often focused primarily on sensational stories of bad things happening.  Being constantly bombarded with these stories can cause us to have a jaded, and distorted, view of the world.  I've come across so many amazing people, stories, websites, and movements this year that I'm convinced there's far more good in the world than bad.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Expanding Possibilities

     One of the lessons I've learned over the years, and this year has only reaffirmed this lesson, is that it can be tremendously enriching to spend time with like-minded people.  Recognizing this, in fact, I've had a number of different people (often readers of my blog) reach out to me this year asking if we could share some time together.  These meetings have usually been pretty unstructured and without a specific purpose.  And they've been quite worthwhile. I had one of those meetings this afternoon.
     A woman I know who shares a passion about kindness asked if we could get together to compare notes and get to know each other better.  Somehow nearly 3 hours went by before we each realized just how late it had gotten.  We exchanged recommended books, websites, philosophies and lessons learned.  Though we had no formal agenda and have no agreed-upon followup steps, it was time well spent.  
     I suppose we all know people in our lives who are toxic and others who are nourishing.  Time spent with the toxic ones is typically filled with complaints, cynicism, and negativity.  These types of relationships usually leave us feeling drained.  Conversely, time spent with nourishing people is usually energizing.  It's filled with curiosity and wonderment and learning.  And more often than not - kindness. These types of relationships often expand our notion of possibilities.  It's as if 1 plus 1 really does equal something more than 2.  I was reminded today that it's worth seeking out these opportunities. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Driving Kindly

     Today I decided that when I was out driving around to all the places I needed to go, I would pay particular attention to opportunities to let people go in front of me and/or to let them merge into traffic.  There were a couple of things I noticed when I did this.
     The first thing that struck me was just how many opportunities to be kind to other drivers there were.  More than I expected.  Of course there are the obvious ones like when you alternate turns merging or coming out of a parking lot.  Then there are the times when someone is trying to make a left turn, but they simply can't find a break in traffic.  It's nice to stop and give them a chance to go.  Or what about letting someone else have that parking spot you were going after, instead of "competing" for it.  All of these create opportunities to be nice.
     The second thing I noticed was how being a kinder driver made me feel.  It was so much more peaceful, more relaxing, and less stressful.  It's amazing how often we "fight" traffic.  In fact, we often use that very word - "fight."  We see the roads as a battleground where we try to beat the other driver for a spot in the flow, or we hold our position without allowing others to get in, as if we somehow "win" when we do this.  And of course, on the extreme end of this spectrum are those who beep or yell at others, or sometimes literally fight with them - once again seeing it as a battle to be won.  I find that when I can stop  thinking this way reflexively, and instead can simply be kind to everyone else, being on the roads is a much more pleasant experience.  

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

An Anonymous Gift

     There are lots of good books I've read over the years and it's always fun to compare notes with people about some of their favorites, particularly the ones that have been most influential for them.  When I find a book that I especially like, it's fun to give it to people as a personal gift.  Today I decided to send one to someone anonymously.
     The book I chose to send this time is a great book that was written back in 1995 by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen (the Chicken Soup for the Soul guys).  Through lots of inspiring stories, the authors explore the power of asking for what we want in life.  They examine some of the reasons we typically don't ask, and provide plenty of ideas for overcoming this tendency.  It really is an amazingly simple, yet powerful concept.  I'd highly recommend it for anyone.
     Anyway, I ordered a copy of the book on Amazon and had it sent as a gift to someone I know.  I included a note saying that it was a gift from an anonymous friend, and I also added the line, "What can you do to make someone else's day today?" (That's my pay-it-forward reminder).  The person I sent it to is someone I only know very casually and will likely have absolutely no clue who the anonymous friend is.
     As usual with these types of acts of kindness, I'll likely never know how she reacted, but I have faith that she'll be positively affected by the book itself as well as the anonymous gesture; and hopefully she'll pay that kindness forward into the world.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Doing Your Best

     While I've generally tried to focus most of my acts of kindness outside of my immediate circle of family and good friends, I don't want to miss the opportunity to do nice things there as well.  Today I wanted to do a little something to acknowledge the efforts of my daughter Hannah this past semester at William & Mary.
     When I was growing up, my brothers and sister and I were expected to get good grades (and we did) and thus great report cards weren't necessarily a cause for celebration.  I don't mean to imply that my parents weren't proud of us; it's just that we weren't showered with gifts and money and privileges (like some friends seemed to be) just because we accomplished what we were capable of.  And I suppose the same could be said for how we've now raised our own two children.  
     With all that being said, William & Mary is a pretty demanding school and top grades don't come to Hannah without plenty of hard work and discipline.  This semester, she really buckled down and achieved her best grades yet.  While I'm proud of her grades, I'm much more proud of the passion she's developed for wanting to do her best.  Ultimately, as most of us eventually learn, wanting to do well to satisfy others is a somewhat empty pursuit.  When the passion for excellence is internally driven though, and is fueled by a deeply personal commitment to doing our best simply for the sake of it, the satisfaction we feel is so much greater.  I'm so proud to see Hannah discovering this lesson for herself and demonstrating her passion for excellence.
     Today I wrote Hannah a note explaining why I'm so proud of her and enclosing a small gift card to a local restaurant.  

Monday, May 21, 2012

More Cookies

     As regular readers of my blog may recall, one of my favorite things to do is to make homemade chocolate chip cookies.  It's a tradition that goes way back to my college days.  Well, a month or two ago, a friend with whom I play golf was jokingly complaining that I never made cookies for him despite the fact that chocolate chip cookies were one of his favorites.  I kept this in mind as a possible act of kindness and today I decided to do it.
     I called my friend late this afternoon and asked if he would be home tonight.  After hearing that he would be, I baked up a fresh batch of cookies and then brought them by his house after dinner.  He was predictably surprised, but pleased, to receive them, and I hung around and chatted with he and his wife (and, of course, ate some cookies!) for awhile.  As it turns out, his birthday is coming up in just 2 days, so the cookies can serve as a nice birthday present as well.
     I've often found that if you pay attention to what people say, you can find lots of opportunities to surprise them.  I'll often make note of their birthdays or things about their kids or other special items they may have mentioned in passing.  By listening closely, I get information that I can use to delight them at some future point.  It's amazing how often they're surprised that I remembered some little detail they once told me.  Paying attention to these details is another way of saying (and showing) you care.  And what's more kind than that?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Back to Afghanistan

     For the past 2 weeks, my adopted soldier (I'll use his initials - "LN") has had the chance to come home for a little rest and relaxation.  He got to be with his family and his fiancĂ©, to catch up with friends, and to do some traveling.  Now he's back in Afghanistan to complete the final 5 months of his tour.  And that means we're writing regularly again.
     I wrote LN a nice, long e-mail today and even included some family pictures. In the last message I got from him, he offered to send pictures from his break if I'd like to see them.  Of course I said "yes"! It's funny that it never occurred to me that I don't even know what he looks like, nor does he know what I look like. I look forward to the picture exchange.
     Since this would be a good time to send another care package, I also asked him if there are any specific things he'd like me to send.  Last time, based on his requests, I sent powdered drink mix, breakfast bars, and peanut butter, among other things.  I'm also going to send him the Sports Illustrated and ESPN Magazine issues featuring the NCAA basketball championship since he is a HUGE University of Kentucky fan.
     I have so thoroughly enjoyed the friendship I've developed with LN over the past few months.  I can now appreciate more fully how much it means to our troops overseas to know that we support them and for them to get regular mail and contact from home.  I'll once again put out the website address (Soldiers' Angels) for any readers who might be interested in adopting your own soldier.  As important as it is to our troops, it's also tremendously rewarding on a personal level.  

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Picking Up the Trash

     Today I decided that I would look for opportunities to pick up trash whenever I walked by it.  This is an interesting exercise for several reasons.  First, you begin to notice trash in places you might not have even seen before.  It's amazing how it can blend into the background when you're not looking for it.  Second, you have to confront your typical thoughts of "Why is all this trash laying around?" and "Isn't somebody going to take care of this?"  It's amazing how often I can be guilty of assuming that it's not my responsibility and that someone will/should get it.  Ultimately, at some level, it's all our collective responsibility to keep our world clean.  Whether we should or shouldn't have to pick up the mess that someone else made is irrelevant.  It's there and we can either ignore it or we can help clean it up.  
     Obviously, I'm not intending to become a garbage man and clean up every street and sidewalk in town.  However, if I'm walking down the street and I see a piece of trash on the sidewalk in front of me, I can either ignore it or I can throw it away.  For today, at least, I focused on throwing it away.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Gatorade For The Thirsty

     I arrived at the Atlanta airport late this afternoon with plenty of time to make my 7:35 flight home to Philadelphia. After going through security, I went to look for a quiet place in the terminal to relax, catch up on e- mails, and do some reading. As I sat down in an empty gate area, I saw a woman who appeared to be a baggage handler standing by the door taking a "breather." I offered a friendly smile and asked how she was doing, to which she replied, "Fine, but it's hot out there." After exchanging some brief comments about the weather, I had an idea. 
     I picked up my things and walked to the next gate area where they were selling food and drinks. After buying a cold bottle of Gatorade, I went back to the gate and gave it to the baggage handler. "Aren't you sweet?!" she said with a smile. 
     I love doing these kinds of surprises for people. It really makes their day (and mine, too). Of course, I forgot to suggest that she doing something nice for someone else, but hopefully she'll be motivated to do so anyway. I have to get better at remembering that.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

One More Time

     This feels a little light, but hey, the opportunity was there to do it again.  I was coming back through the same toll booth in Atlanta that I talked about yesterday, and figured why not take one more shot at paying for the person behind me.  And that's exactly what I did.  And like yesterday, I watched to see if there would be any reaction from the person.  
     I say this not as a complaint, but rather as an observation:  I was a little surprised that the person made no effort at acknowledgement.  If it were me, I probably would have followed the car ahead of me and flashed my lights or made some other signal of appreciation.  Quite the opposite, it seemed almost as if the car actually slowed down and drifted away in the traffic behind me.  There could be a number of reasons for this, including that they may not have noticed who was in front of them since they weren't expecting it to matter.  
     In any case, it was fun to do it, and to wonder what the person might have been thinking as the toll collector told them their toll (however small it was) had been paid by a stranger.  

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Paying for the Person Behind You

     I finally got the chance to do it!  I've always heard about people paying the toll for the person behind them on a highway, but these days, with EZ Pass and other electronic payments systems, it's hard to do this.  Well today I was in Atlanta and as I headed north of the city on Route 400, I came to a toll that was $.50.  Since I don't have EZ Pass in my rental car, I pulled into the lane marked "cashier" and prepared to pay my toll.  Then I remembered that I could actually pay for someone else too.  I gave the cashier a dollar and told her that I was paying for the person behind me as well.  
     As I pulled away, I watched in the rearview mirror to be sure the next person wasn't required to pay the toll.  I was also curious to see if the driver would acknowledge the gesture in any way - perhaps a flash of the lights or a wave or anything.  They didn't, which was OK, since I certainly didn't do it for that reason.
     As with all anonymous acts of kindness, I'll never know what their reaction was when the toll collector told them their toll had already been paid.  Were they surprised?  Happy?  Did it cause them to want to do something nice for someone else?  I hope so, but I'll have to be satisfied that at least I did my little part to spread some kindness today.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Thinking of You

     This being the season of graduations, I was thinking of someone I know today whose only child is graduating high school this week and will be heading off to college in the fall.  I remember well how I felt when each of our children was graduating.  It's such a happy and sad event.  Happy of course, for all that they've accomplished and for the excitement that lies ahead of them.  Yet sad for the realization that a phase of our family's life is over.  Knowing how these emotions can be magnified when it's an only child, I reached out to this person, with a personal note, to let her know I was thinking of her. 
     I sent another note today to someone I know who recently lost a sibling.  While not wanting to compare a graduation with a death, in some way, I think it helps people to know that others are with them in spirit, sharing their experience with them.  I suppose it's part of what it means to be a community and why humans have always been drawn to community. This year, when I'm thinking of someone and what they may be going through (good or bad), I've tried to actually let them know.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Doubling the Kindness

     I promise this will be the last story related to bringing my daughter home from college.  As we've done before, we rented a minivan for the trip so that we'd more easily be able to fit everything in one vehicle.  We arrived home last this afternoon and after emptying out the van, I headed to the rental car place to  handle the return.
     The woman at the rental car counter was particularly pleasant so I decided I might use one of my gift cards for her.  When I noticed that she had a cup of coffee behind her that was from Starbucks, I asked her if she liked going there.  Following her affirmative answer, I presented her with a Starbucks gift card.  She was quite surprised and commented that it was so nice of me.  I told her that my only request was that she do something nice for someone else today, to which she readily agreed.
     As I've noted before, I'm trying to be better about gently suggesting a pay-it-forward notion to recipients of my acts of kindness, wherever it feels reasonably appropriate.  In this way, I can at least double the kindness that gets put out into the world from each act.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Graduation Photographer

     Not only was today Mother's Day, but it was also graduation day at William & Mary.  The main graduation ceremony took place in the late morning, and then each department held a separate commencement event/reception at different locations around campus at 2:30.  Since I was in Williamsburg and it was a beautiful spring day, I figured I'd wander around campus some and soak up the celebratory environment.
     Everywhere I went I saw families proudly gathered around their graduates, taking pictures to memorialize the event.  In most cases, they took turns posing in all manner of combinations of graduates, siblings, parents, and grandparents.  Usually someone had to be left out of each picture as they were the assigned photographer for that particular combination.  This presented a nice opportunity for me to help out.
     Whenever I witnessed this taking place, I stepped in and asked if they'd like me to take a picture of everyone together.  They were always so appreciative.  I'd take a couple of pictures, sometimes with multiple cameras, congratulate the graduate, and then move on to another family.  It was a joyous way to spend an afternoon.
     Beyond the pleasure of helping out all these various strangers, walking around campus on graduation day brought so many different emotions to the surface.  It was on exactly this day 29 years ago that I was one of those gradudates on this very campus.  I'll always remember the bittersweet feelings I had that day as I excitedly looked forward to the future, and yet felt deep sadness over the recognition that some of these friends I might never see again.
     As I saw each family beaming with pride as they looked upon their new graduate, I got a foreshadowing of what it will be like for me in just 2 years as my own children reach that day.  I realized that it's not really about graduating college, as for many of us this is practically a given.  Rather, it's about seeing your child become an adult.  It's realizing that in some ways it seems like it was so long ago that they were little toddlers, and at the same time it seems like it was just yesterday.  What I saw today was the immense pride that each family felt as they saw their little babies somehow magically turn into capable, successful young adults ready to take on the world.  I'm certain it's something that parents have been feeling for thousands upon thousands of years regardless of their nationalities or their cultures.  It's a truly universal experience.  Pretty humbling and amazing.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

In a Tourist Town

     I came down to Williamsburg, Virginia today to help get my daughter packed up for home at the conclusion of her 2nd year at William & Mary.  Williamsburg is a pretty unique town, being such a major national tourist attraction.  The town is nearly always filled with tourists, many of whom often look confused and in need of help.  That's all the opening I needed.
     I hadn't been in town long before I spotted a woman walking around the parking lot where I had left my car, looking like she was lost.  When I asked her if I could help, she explained that she was looking for "the place near the College where all the shops were."  Knowing the town as well as I do (I went to W&M as well, and am a frequent visitor), I was easily able to assist her in getting to Merchants' Square. 
     In an earlier blog post, I wrote about how I've become much more patient this year, particularly with senior citizens, as I now seem them as people I can assist, rather than as people who get in my way or slow me down.  I noticed today that the same could be said of the tourists.  They used to be annoying  as they can clog up the town and never seem to know where they're going.  Now though, my attention is more on how I can be of assistance instead of how they can be frustrating.  As usual, it's all a question of what we choose to focus on.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Basic #14

     Those familiar with the Ritz-Carlton may know that the blueprint for their legendary service is a series of 20 behaviors they teach and reinforce known as their "Basics."  Basic #14 directs employees to "escort guests rather than pointing out directions to another area of the Hotel."  Think of the difference in how we feel when we're escorted to our destination instead of just being given a series of right and left turns.  I had a simple opportunity to practice this today.
     After finishing a round of golf this afternoon, I went to the pro shop to enter my score in the computer that tracks our handicaps.  While I was there, I noticed a man come in and ask one of the pros where the locker room was.  He said that he was a guest waiting to meet one of our members who had not yet arrived.
     As the pro was about to give him directions, I jumped in and told him that I'd take him to the locker room.  When we got there, I also arranged for the locker room attendant to find him a locker near his host, and made sure he had whatever he needed.  As is often the case with simple gestures of kindness, it wasn't a "big deal", but it certainly gave the visitor a greater feeling of hospitality than letting him wander through the clubhouse, unsure of where to go or what to do. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Blowing in the Wind

     Wow.  Today was a really windy day in South Jersey.  In our town, it was also trash day.  This combination means that empty trash cans, as light as they are, are likely to be blown from the end of people's driveway out into the middle of the street.  And this can easily become a traffic hazard.
     Sure enough, as I was coming home this afternoon I saw just such a garbage can rolling into the street.  It would have been easy to drive around it and continue on my way; after all, it wasn't my can or even my street.  However, I figured it would be such a simple thing to pull over and take care of it.  In fact, that's exactly what I did.  I parked on the side of the road, grabbed the garbage can from the road, and put it behind some shrubs that would protect it from the wind.  
     This is one of those changes I've noticed as a result of my kindness project.  In the past, I would have left the garbage can for someone else to deal with.  Now, it's hard for me to pass up opportunities where I can help.  No one will ever know that the can was out there and no one will ever know I took care of it.  Except for me.  How many others probably drove by, like I would have previously done, and simply figured it was someone else's problem?
     It's certainly not curing cancer, but how nice would it be if everyone acted upon whatever opportunities for kindness, however small, showed up in their world?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

International Relief

     I've mentioned before a pretty cool website called that connects non-profits from all over the world with people who are willing to help out in a variety of ways.  Put simply, the non-profit posts a "challenge" they need help with, and people "respond" to challenges that fit their identified passions and skills.  I was notified of a challenge today that I was able to help with.
     The non-profit is a pretty amazing organization, based in England, called Resolve International.  It was started by a man who had been in Nepal and had seen, firsthand, the utter poverty that plagues so much of the country's people.  He created the organization to make a meaningful difference in these people's lives.  There are lots of ways people can help.  The particular "challenge" I responded to mostly had to do with providing feedback on certain aspects of his website.  
     Throughout this year so far I've come across so many truly inspiring projects being run by people literally all over the world.  These projects serve as an incredible reminder of how much compassion and generosity really exists our there, despite what the steady stream of negative news would cause you to think.  It's also a reminder to me to be proactive about filling my consciousness with the positive rather than the negative.  And there is an awful lot of positive if you go looking . . . 

Homeless At the Airport?

     Today was a long day of traveling with multiple flight delays, and I'm writing this past midnight - so I'll keep it short.  When my flight finally arrived at the Philadelphia airport it was approximately 11 pm and the airport was mostly deserted.  As I slowly made my way to baggage claim to await my luggage, I decided I'd look for someone to whom I could give one of the gift cards I usually keep with me.
     Before long, I noticed an elderly woman sitting on a bench who honestly looked like she might be homeless.  I decided she might be a better candidate for a McDonalds card than a Starbucks one.  As I approached her to offer her the card, I wasn't sure if she even spoke English.  It turned out that she did, though she spoke so quietly it was hard for me to understand her.  It took a bit for me to explain to her what it was I was giving her.  She had almost no teeth, and was dressed in rags.  I can't quite figure out what she was doing at the airport. In any case, I was able to help her understand how she could use the gift card.  She told me (I think?) that she was once an employee of McDonalds and she thanked me for the card.
     I'm sure there's a fascinating story behind this woman and how she got to be where she was tonight and in the condition she was.  Unfortunately, I was candidly too tired to spend the time and energy to learn more.  However, I was at least able to help her buy a meal that was likely much needed.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Granting a Simple Wish

     I was tied up in meetings almost the entire day today so had little opportunity to deliver one of my typical acts of kindness.  Thankfully, I always have some ideas in my back pocket, like going to one of my favorite sites,
     As I perused some of the wishes that had been posted, I found a woman who described the "wakeup call" her family had been given about their health.  It seems that the whole family is dealing with high blood pressure and diabetes, and the woman recognizes the need for them to improve their nutrition and to begin to exercise.  She was looking for some input and advice on these topics.
     Having been a lifelong runner, and having helped many people begin and sustain exercise programs over the years, I have many thoughts and ideas on this topic.  I responded to the woman's request by sharing a few ideas and then inviting her to e-mail me for much more detailed suggestions.  Hopefully I'll hear back from her and can offer her more assistance.
     Lest people think that being nice always involves gifts of money, granting this wish is yet another example of ways to be kind that don't cost anything at all.  More than half of my intentional acts of kindness, in fact, do not involve any financial cost, and I try to make it a point to keep a strong mix of types of acts.  There are indeed lots of ways to be kind.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Appreciating the Volunteers

     This morning, I ran one of the largest 10-mile races in the United States - the Broad Street Run in Philadelphia.  The race was capped at 40,000 people, and amazingly, it was sold out within 5 hours of entries being available on-line back in February.  As you might imagine, the logistical challenges of a race of this size are enormous; and to make it even more challenging, it's a "point-to-point" race, meaning that the starting line is 10 miles from the finish line.  
     To move 40,000 runners from parking lots to the start, check their gear for retrieval at the finish, provide safety, drinks, food, and first aid, among many other tasks, required literally thousands of volunteers.  Most of these people started their day in the wee hours of the morning and didn't finish till early afternoon.  
     Today, I made it my job to thank as many of them as I could.  This included the bus drivers, the people checking gear, those monitoring the finish line, the people handing out food after the race, and even those directing traffic.  I wanted them to know that I appreciate all that they did to make it a smooth event.  
     After the race, as we waited to get our dry clothes and personal gear from the buses where they had been stowed, I saw one man complaining loudly - he was practically yelling - about how long he had to wait to get his gear.  He was totally disgusted and was complaining to anyone who would listen.  It was fascinating to watch as he was about the only one who was complaining.  I was actually impressed with how efficient things were being handled.  It's interesting how we can each choose to see the same situation in completely different ways.  And no doubt, the way he was choosing to perceive it was likely to negatively affect how he dealt with anyone in his path, and even how he dealt with the rest of his day.  I chose kindness and appreciation and I'll bet my day was a whole lot better.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Time for a Thank You Note

     As I've written about from time to time this year, kindness and gratitude seem to go hand-in-hand.  Interestingly, both are also on the short list of what most researchers have found are the keys to happiness.  For my part, I've found it useful to occasionally think about various people in my life for whom I'm thankful, and to let them know.  Today was one of those days.
     My wife and I both went to the College of William and Mary, in Williamsburg, Virginia, and my daughter Hannah is fortunate enough to be there now.  Among the many people we met when we were there so many years ago is a wonderful couple who have been a part of both the college and Williamsburg communities since the 1970's.  They've been good friends of ours for many years and have always welcomed us to use their home as if it were our own whenever we're in town.  
     In addition to having a home away from home, it's a great comfort to know that Hannah has an adult support network in Williamsburg (together with her grandparents who are also there now!).  There's nothing like old friends who you can count on and with whom you can always simply be yourself.  Today I sent these friends a note letting them know how much I appreciate them.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Checking the Ego at the Door

     OK, this was a hard one.  Today, I wrote a very kind e-mail to someone who, quite honestly, didn't deserve it.  It really tested my ability to "check my ego at the door" and to focus on the positive.  Let me try to explain:
     Two years ago, my son Ben was in a small fender-bender in Cherry Hill.  A school bus bumped into the back of a car, which bumped another car, which bumped still another car, which bumped Ben who was stopped for traffic.  It was no big deal, the bus driver claimed responsibility, and their insurance company promptly took care of the minor damages.  Recently though, we received notice that the second person in line is suing everyone else, including Ben, and including me!
     Our insurance company has assigned an attorney to handle our defense and she has been incredibly frustrating to deal with.  Despite having told her on multiple occasions that Ben is out of the country until June, she keeps calling for him to set an appointment for depositions.  Her work is sloppy and I can never leave her a message because her voicemail box is always full.  
     In the conversation I had with her today, I let my frustration show too much. I was short and less than pleasant with her.  I really don't like working with her and I don't like her tone.  Having said all that, I did not handle the call in the most effective way.
     After thinking about it for awhile, I decided to write this woman an e-mail apologizing for the way I handled the call and pledging my cooperation on what needs to get done.  As I agonized over the best wording for the e-mail, I found myself stuck on the feeling that this woman was obnoxious, patronizing, and annoying.  She was clearly "at fault" and I had every right to feel angry with her. I felt like I needed to be honest and "set her straight."  And yet, what purpose would this serve?  Would it be more likely to help or hurt?  Would it make her more or less likely to work hard on my behalf?  Perhaps most importantly, would it be kind?
     I'm reminded of something I once read in a book by Dr. Wayne Dyer.  He was commenting on our obsession with being "right" and he posed the question, "Is it more important to be right or to be kind?"  The more convinced we are that we're right, and the more justifiable our complaint, the more we want to voice it or act upon it.  I know I'm that way.  It takes an incredible submerging of our ego to let go of having to be right.  What difference does it really make that I was "right" and this woman was "wrong?"  I still need her assistance, and I'm clearly more likely to get her best work if I focus on being kind.
     It seems to me that when deciding upon a course of action, I can be a slave to my need to be right, or I can release myself from this slavery and focus on what will spread the most kindness.  I'll be honest . . . it's much harder than it sounds.  But I'm committed to the path of kindness.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Two for One

     Today I was able to perform an intentional act of kindness, and then double it!  Let me explain:
     Every year, the Tri-State HRMA (Human Resource Management Association) holds a full day conference to provide members with an opportunity for networking and for education.  As a part of that program, I was asked to make a presentation on building a high-performance culture through organizational values.  It was my pleasure to donate my time for this, and despite being the "early-bird" presenter at 7:30 this morning, the room was so packed that we needed to bring in extra chairs.  It was fun to do, and from the feedback I heard, it was clear that members were able to take away a lot of value.  But that was just the first part.
     As a "thank you" for giving my time, Tri-State committed to making a donation to a charity of my choice.  I decided to direct their contribution to a local organization called Meals On Wheels.  Perhaps you've heard of it.  Meals on Wheels delivers nutritious, well-balanced meals to senior citizens in our county who are homebound and alone.  It's a vitally important program to help keep seniors healthy when they have no one to take care of them.
     It was great to leverage my act today by doubling its impact.  Thanks to TriState for their support.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Staying Consistent

     Today was my day to write to my soldier.  He's actually on leave right now for 2 weeks - back in the states with his family and fiancĂ© - but I believe he's checking e-mail.  When I signed up to "adopt" a soldier through Soldiers' Angels, I committed to writing at least once each week.  It's a commitment I take seriously.  It's important that our servicemen and women know that we care about them and support them and nothing shows that as much as consistency.  
     Since we now know each other much better, it's way easier to have things to write about.  I've also promised him that when he returns home from his deployment in October, I'll fly him to Philadelphia so he can go to an Eagles' game with me.  It will be great to finally get to meet him in person!
     While anonymous acts of kindness definitely have their place, acts like these where a personal connection is made certainly have a different kind of reward.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Sharing the Spoils

     Just before I left for my cruise, I attended our Rotary club's annual $10,000 Raffle Dinner.  Our biggest fundraiser of the year, we sell 200 tickets @ $200 each and during the dinner we draw each of the numbered tickets.  The first and every 20th ticket wins $250 and the final ticket drawn wins $10,000.  It's always an exciting event, especially if your number makes it deep into the evening.
     Well, this year my ticket made it to the final five!  Though it was somewhat anticlimactic, the final five ticket holders agreed to split the winnings so we each walked away with $2000.  (Just for fun, the last 5 tickets were still picked and mine would have been the ultimate winner!).  
     Since it was all "found" money, here's what I decided to do with my winnings.  First, I split it 50/50 with my wife.  Then I took my half ($1000) and decided that I would use half of that ($500) for my kindness project.  With an extra $500 I figured I could do some really nice things.
     Today, I used about $82 of that money to buy diapers to be donated to Twin Oaks Community Services.  I've made contributions there before and they go to teen mothers and others who struggle mightily to make ends meet.  I was able to buy more than 500 diapers with that money.  It's fun to have a pot of money I can use to make life easier for some who are far less fortunate.