Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.
- Leo Buscaglia

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Young Entrepreneurs

     One of the sure signs of summer is the occasional children's lemonade stand set up on a neighborhood street corner.  In the past, I typically only stopped at these if it was convenient and/or I was thirsty.  However, it occurs to me that I if they're going to set themselves up to work on a hot summer day, I should always make a point of rewarding their efforts with a purchase.  Today I was able to make good on a version of that commitment.
     As I stopped on Main Street in Moorestown this afternoon, I saw a group of four young girls sitting at a table in front of one of the stores.  Their table was filled with various baked goods from cookies to cupcakes to brownies to even popcorn.  The sign at their table announced that all the money raised would go to the Susan B. Komen Foundation for breast cancer research.  How could I pass that one up?  So I bought myself some chocolate chip cookies and complimented them on their work.  And then I asked them if it would be OK to take their picture.  They were all smiles and clearly appreciated the attention.
     It's nice to see young kids being industrious, whether it's to make money for themselves or to raise money for a cause.  Either way, they're learning the valuable relationship between effort and reward.  I'm glad to be a part of that lesson.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Helpful People

     I was traveling home from Atlanta today and had the chance to witness (and participate in) a number of examples of kindness to strangers.  In the Atlanta airport, you take an underground train from the security/ticketing/baggage claim area to the various terminals.  While I was on the train, I saw a woman, looking a bit unsure of herself, ask a stranger for some directions.  Not only did the stranger explain where she needed to go, but he went out of his way to give her repeated explicit directions, letting her know what signs to look for, which way to turn, etc.  Since I was getting off at the same stop as her, I also made sure she knew where to go.
     I witnessed this same type of friendliness almost everywhere I went. Sure, most people were absorbed in their own journey and where they needed to go, but any time someone needed help, people were glad to assist.  I also saw a great deal of politeness.  
     As I've noted before, it's possible that I'm seeing these things because I'm more attuned to looking for them.  However, for those who think the world is mostly filled with rude and selfish people, I'd argue that the world is filled with a whole mixture of different types of people and that you'll see exactly what you're looking for.  I'm consistently finding that most people are kind and generous and want to help each other.  
    By the way, when I went back through the toll I wrote about yesterday, I again paid for the person behind me.  Once again, there was no sign of recognition from the other driver.  I'm not quite sure what to make of that (probably nothing) so I'll leave it as nothing more than an observation.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

It Takes a Toll

     I was back in Atlanta today for a quick 2-day trip and once again had that (these days) unique opportunity to pay someone else's toll for them.  I say unique because with EZ Pass and other electronic  toll collection methods, it's rare that I'm ever giving cash or coins to a real person.  As I went through the toll on Route 400 just north of Atlanta, I handed the cashier some extra money and told her that I was paying for the car behind me.  By her unsurprised reaction, I suspect it's not unheard of that she gets this request.  
     As I pulled away, I watched in my rearview mirror to make sure that the next person wasn't asked to also pay the toll and it appeared that she was not. I also watched to see if the driver would catch up to me and give me any signal of recognition - a wave, a nod, a flash of the lights - anything to indicate appreciation.  Like the last time I did this, there was none.
    I've learned not to conclude much from this simple fact as there may be any number of explanations.  For example, by the time the person realized what had happened, it was too late for them to notice/remember who was in front of them.  Or perhaps they were getting off the road just past the exit.  To be clear, I didn't do it in order to get any reaction.  I did it for no other reason than to be kind.  However, I was still curious, just as an observer of human behavior, to see if there would be any discernible reaction.  I'm sure I'll do this one a few more times before the year is over and I'll keep recording what happens to see if there are any interesting conclusions to be drawn.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Donating Fruit

     Over the past few months, I've come across many different websites that make it easy to be kind.  Let me tell you about a new one that I just discovered.  Juicy Juice, which is a Nestle company, has undertaken a project to donate up to 35 million pieces of fruit this summer to children and families who are "food insecure."  This is a phrase that refers to the millions of people who lack access to enough nutritionally adequate food to be healthy.  The "Fruit for All" project is an effort to address this challenge, which is particularly acute during the summer months when kids are out of school.  
     To participate in the project, and make a difference to those in need, is incredibly simple and easy.  All you have to do is go to their website and respond to their weekly challenge.  This week's challenge is a simple pop quiz.  Answer the questions and they donate a piece of fruit.  It only took me a few minutes to do.  Each week, a new challenge is posted.  So far, over 10 million pieces of fruit have been donated.  Donations are distributed through a network of regional food banks run by Feeding America.  It doesn't get much easier than this to make a difference.
     On a separate, but related note, I wanted to share an observation I had today.  I spent several hours this afternoon trying to resolve a computer issue through a vendor's tech support line.  Nothing I tried would work, I was on interminably long holds, the people I spoke to barely spoke understandable English and they were totally ineffective.  I found myself getting more and more frustrated, and even angry.  
     At the height of my frustration, when I wanted to strangle someone, I decided to think of an act of kindness that I could do.  Shifting my attention away from my own frustration and toward helping others helped to dissolve some of those negative feelings and helped put me back in a good place.  I'm not sure how much of it was simply distracting me from my own woes, or how much was putting things in perspective, or how much was generating positive energy.  Maybe it was all of the above.  Regardless, it's a strategy that seems to work.  The next time you're feeling frustrated or angry, try doing something kind for another and see what happens.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Gifting Another Book

     When I was on the cruise with my sister at the end of April, we met a very nice couple from the Washington DC area and we spent considerable time with them throughout our trip.  One half of the couple, a man named Mike, had his own construction company building houses and doing high-end custom remodeling.  As we got to know each other, I realized that many of the principles discussed in my book, Fundamentally Different, would be useful for him, so I decided to send him a copy as a gift.
     The problem was that I didn't get his home (or work) address and so I had to rely on his girlfriend to get it to me.  This took some time, but last week, I finally got the address.  This morning, I penned a personal note inside the book and mailed it off to him. 
    I love when I get the opportunity to share my book with someone for whom I know it will resonate and will have a big impact.  I believe that Mike is one of those people.  It's my pleasure to share with him.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Garbage Man Cometh

     It was a beautiful summer day and I wanted to do something outdoors so I decided it would be a good day to revisit a playground and do some more trash collection.  Since my son Ben was home, I asked him if he wanted to join me.  White plastic trash bags in hand, we headed to the neighborhood playground/baseball fields to do some work.
     As we were on our way, Ben asked me if there was much garbage there.  My answer was, "There is if you look for it."  Like most things in our lives, it seems that we find what we're focused on.  In this particular case this is not a garbage-strewn, graffiti-covered playground.  Quite the opposite, it's generally reasonably well-kept and beautiful.  And yet, when you start to look for trash to pick up, you suddenly see it everywhere you gaze.  In some ways, it's a bit surprising since there are lots of garbage cans spread throughout the park so you're never very far from one.  And still, their are empty plastic bottles, candy wrappers, food containers, and other miscellaneous pieces of trash all around the park.
     We spent about 15 or 20 minutes strolling through the area picking up whatever we saw.  As I greeted one woman who was watching her children play, she thanked me for what I was doing.  It really was such a beautiful day that I absolutely didn't mind doing it at all.  It felt good to make a difference in our collective environment, with little fanfare or attention.  And it was even better to be able to do it with Ben.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sending Prayers

     A couple of weeks ago, a high school senior from my town was in a very serious car accident.  As a result, she and her family were unable to participate in the joy of graduation and the traditional events surrounding it.  Moreover, those events are likely far from the family's mind as the young woman is still hospitalized and apparently fighting for her life.  Several times lately I've seen Facebook messages from friends asking that people pray for her and her family.  Situations like these tug at my heart as I try to imagine, as a parent, how devastating this must be.  At the same time, not being particularly religious, the calls for prayers don't usually move me to action.  Tonight I decided to change that.
     I don't intend to offer up any theological or spiritual beliefs here, and I honestly don't profess to know much about the power of prayer, but I do somehow suspect that there is some power in collective consciousness.  It certainly can't hurt and can only help, so I took some time this evening to sit quietly and really concentrate my thoughts on the family and send out my love and positive thoughts to them in the hopes that things will take a turn for the better.  I hope that my thoughts are added to those of the many others who are also, in their own way, praying for this family.  
     As I write this post, I realize what a sensitive topic it can be as many people have particularly strong beliefs about God, religion, prayer, and spirituality.  It's  a place I don't really want to go in this blog.  And while I don't usually use this blog as a place to advocate for any particular position or suggest specific actions for others, I do want to make an exception tonight and at least ask that my readers consider supporting this family in crisis in whatever way is appropriate for your own system of beliefs.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Surprising the Teller

     I needed to swing by the bank this afternoon to cash a couple of checks, so I figured it might be fun to surprise the teller with a gift card.  Taking out one of my Starbucks cards, I stuck a post-it note on it and wrote, "Enjoy this gift card and be sure to do something nice for someone else today."  Then I put the card together with the checks and headed for the bank.
     Pulling up to the drive-through window, I placed the checks and the gift card/note into the retracting arm (is that what you call it??) and waited to see what would happen when the teller read the note.  I was hoping there wouldn't be some kind of bank regulations that prevented her from accepting gifts.  It took her a moment or two to read it, and then she broke into a huge smile and gave me a "thumbs up."  She said she was going to share it with the teller who was sitting to her left.  Then she chuckled and said that when the other teller saw I had written a note, she was scared they were going to be held up and robbed!  I hadn't thought of that potential reaction!
     It was nice to make them smile and make their day more memorable.  And hopefully, they'll take me up on the "pay it forward" opportunity and they'll spread some cheer to someone else today as well.  

Friday, June 22, 2012

Returning a Lost Item

     When my son Ben returned home from his run this morning, he was carrying a driver's license that he had found lying in the middle of the road.  Since Ben had to leave for the airport within the hour, it was up to me to find a way to return the license to its rightful owner as quickly as possible.  You can easily imagine the sinking feeling you'd have when you realize you've lost your wallet.  I didn't want someone to have that feeling for very long, so I went to work.
     The license belonged to a man who lives in Cherry Hill and so I did a reverse lookup online to see if I could get a phone number.  I figured the sooner I let him know I had it, the easier he would rest.  Unfortunately, the phone number had been disconnected.  
     Thankfully, Moorestown is a pretty small town where many of us know each other.  It turns out that I recognized the last name on the license and was pretty sure it belonged to the son of a man I know in town.  I looked up the father's phone number and by 7:20 this morning had him on the line.  Sure enough, I was able to confirm that it was, indeed, his son who had lost the license.  Since I had to be in Cherry Hill this afternoon anyway, I told him that I'd drop it off at his son's house today.  He promised to call his son right away with the good news.
     Arriving at the appropriate house this afternoon, I knocked on the door and was greeted by the owner's wife.  I handed her the license and explained where I had gotten it.  I'm not sure she realized it had been lost, but she sure seemed relieved to have gotten it back and was thankful Ben had found it.
     Going the extra effort to get the license back to the right person within hours of finding it felt like the right thing to do.  I know I sure would appreciate it if I was on the other end.  And, to a certain degree, I suppose that's what kindness really is - doing for others what you hope others would do for you.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Let's Name Names

     I've written several times this year, including just the other day, about the importance of using people's names whenever possible.  Today I spent a good portion of my day traveling home from Phoenix.  As is typically the case with traveling, I came into contact with so many different workers - people at the ticket counter, TSA folks, baggage handlers, flight attendants, workers at the Paradise Cafe where I bought lunch, and the shuttle driver for the offsite parking place, among many others.  Any time they were wearing a name tag, I made a point to thank them and wish them a good day, always using their name.  A number of times, people gave me a pleased smile, indicating the fact that I used their name had registered with them and made a difference.
     Recognizing this impact, it occurred to me that so many companies miss a huge opportunity to create human connections by not having people wear name tags.  I notice that when people are wearing a name tag, they seem to have an extra bounce in their step.  They walk with a little more pride.  I think it's because it helps them to feel less anonymous.  Incidentally, I think this is much more true when the name tag has the first name than their last.  If it only has their last name, it's more like a standard uniform than it is a personal statement.
     It also seems to me that there's even a bigger opportunity to create connections, particularly in the travel industry, when people's name tags also show where they're from.  Sometimes I see this with workers at resort golf clubs.  When you see where the person is from, and you know something about that place, it's so totally natural to strike up a conversation with them, comparing notes or seeking additional connections you may each have.  Even when you don't know anything about the place, their hometown can be a conversation starter, especially if it's somewhere unusual.  
     I think that it an increasingly impersonal world, most of us relish the chance to feel more connected to each other.  Nothing helps this happen more quickly and easily than using each other's names.

Letter-writing Day

     Today was my day to send another letter to my adopted soldier in Afghanistan.  It's been a busy time for me and my family and so I had lots to tell him about.  And how about this small world story:  it seems that a close friend of my soldier from his high school in Kentucky happens to be someone who was on my son Ben's trip around the world; in fact, Ben and this young woman were good friends!  What are the chances of that?!
     I've come to really enjoy writing to him, and I particularly look forward to his responses.  I know it means a lot for him to get mail (e-mail as well as physical mail) from home.  It's actually a fascinating process to get to know someone only through the mail - never having met them before.  I so much look forward to meeting him in person later this fall when his tour of duty is officially over.  He is truly a believer in serving others and he's a remarkable young man.  I hear so many people lament that the "younger generation" lacks a sense of purpose or conviction.  However, I see many young people, my soldier friend being just one of them, who are devoted to making the world a better place.  Perhaps we see what we're looking for.  I'm looking for good and see it all around me.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Chatting with Tarat

     I arrived in Phoenix today for a quick business trip.  As I walked out of the airport into the 110+ degree heat, I found the taxi stand and got a cab to take me to my hotel.  Being more of an introvert, I'm not usually one of those people who immediately strikes up conversation with everyone around them; but the driver seemed like a nice guy and so I decided to get to know him a bit.
     Over the next 20-25 minutes I learned all about his upbringing in Cairo and his decision to come to the US to go to school.  In his first year at ASU, he met his wife and he now has 4 children between the ages of 1 and 8!  He just became a US citizen and is so thankful to be here.  We talked American and Egyptian politics, weather, and thoughts about raising children.  When he dropped me off, he thanked me so much for the conversation and I thanked him as well, calling him by his first name (Tarat), which I had noticed on his license.  Before he departed, he asked how I knew his name.  When I told him, he seemed so touched that I had paid attention to a detail like that.
     I suspect that Tarat is often treated as nothing more than a paid servant.  I've written before about the importance of using people's names whenever possible.  I find that when I do so, they become real people with real families and real stories, rather than just their occupations.  They're more than the receptionist, or the deli counter person, or the TSA agent.  Tarat was more than just a cab driver.  
     It occurs to me that every time we have an exchange with someone, we have an opportunity to impact them.  That impact can be positive or negative.  I'm trying to be more conscious of using that opportunity to send a positive "wave" into the world.  I suspect that Tarat will go on to his next fare with his spirit somewhat uplifted from our exchange, and maybe that will even carry over to the rest of his day and his interactions with his family when he gets home tonight.  We never really know how we impact others; but we can sure try to make it a positive one.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Helping and Happiness

     As I was driving to an appointment this morning, I found myself in a line of cars stopped at a traffic light.  Along the median that divided the two sides of the street walked a man holding up a sign that said "I'm hungry.  Please help."  While I've often ignored these people in the past, today I wanted to help.  As I was about to pull out my wallet though, the light began to change.  Unfortunately there was no safe place for me to pull over without causing an accident and so I missed the chance to help him.  Two good things did happen, however.
     First, a person two cars in front of me rolled down his window and handed the man a banana and what looked like a muffin.  It was probably the driver's breakfast and it was so cool to see him offer it to the beggar instead.  Second, I was inspired by yet another example of the generosity that truly is prevalent, and yet, so often goes unnoticed and unreported.  It made me even more determined to be on the lookout today for opportunities to serve.  And sure enough, just such an opportunity presented itself within a couple of hours.
     On the way home from my appointment, I pulled into the parking lot of my local Wegmans to pick up a couple of items.  As I approached the store, I noticed a woman with one child on her hip and 2 other small children in tow, trying to get them all loaded into her minivan, along with a shopping cart filled with groceries.  I hesitated for just a moment, not wanting to frighten her, and then said to her, "Excuse me, ma'am.  Can I give you a hand loading all these groceries into your car?"  Not sure quite what to make of me, she also hesitated a moment but then said "Sure," as she certainly had her hands full.
     She had 10 or 12 plastic grocery bags to be unloaded and it probably took me no more than 2 minutes or so before I was done.  By that time her kids were safely seated in the minivan and she turned to thank me.  She looked somewhat quizzically at me and asked if I worked there.  I told her that I didn't and that I just saw that she looked like she could use some help and wanted to be of assistance, as I remember what it was like to have small children.  This seemed to surprise her (in a good way) and she thanked me several more times.  I had the feeling she was going to go home and tell her friends and family, "Wait till you hear what happened to me at Wegmans today!"
     It was so fun to offer unexpected help to a stranger, and it surely left me feeling happier and more energetic.  Several times this year I've mentioned some of the research that suggests that practicing regular kindness is one of the most common attributes of the happiest people.  I definitely understand this in a more visceral way, not just in an intellectual way.  It's strange how it works, but it absolutely does.  Maybe we're biologically wired that way intentionally.  I'm really not sure, but I can anecdotally say that nearly everyone I know reports that they feel happier when they are kind to others - a thought well worth pondering - and putting into action.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Giving for Father's Day

     This Father's Day, I received a great gift from my son, Ben.  It was a gift card from the organization JustGive.  If you're unfamiliar with this organization, it's worth going to their website -  Basically, they're like a clearinghouse for just about any non-profit you can think of.  On the site, you can search by cause or by location and read all about literally thousands of different non-profit entities; and you can easily make a contribution to whichever ones you find appropriate.  I can "redeem" the gift card I received from Ben by going to the site and designating some or all of my gift card amount to one or more of my chosen charities.  And that's exactly what I did this evening.
     I chose a Philadelphia-based organization called Back On My Feet.  This is an amazing group that "promotes the self-sufficiency of the homeless population by engaging them in running as a means to build confidence, strength, and self-esteem."  Started in Philadelphia in 2007 by a remarkable young woman named Anne Mahlum, the organization is now operating in 9 major cities across the U.S.  What they're doing is truly inspiring.  
     What a great way to use Father's Day to spread even more kindness - from Ben to me to the homeless of Philadelphia.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Making Loans Around the World

     Today I made loans to help a woman in El Salvador buy supplies for her small cafe, a woman in Mongolia buy more stock for her wallpaper retail business, and a woman in Kenya buy material for the shop from which she sells clothing in local markets.  Pretty amazing.  How did I do it?  Read on.     
     A good friend recently turned me on to a pretty amazing website ( that facilitates the process of enabling almost anyone to make "micro loans" to people all around the world.  A micro loan is a small loan typically provided to a poor person who wouldn't normally have access to traditional sources of financing.  These loans are usually used to assist people in growing their small businesses, helping them to break out of the cycle of poverty and gain greater financial independence.  You can read all about how this works, see pictures and stories of borrowers, contribute to loans and even track repayment schedules all on the site.  Truly remarkable.
    People often say that technology is making the world smaller and smaller.  We can instantly see and talk to people who are literally halfway across the globe.  Technology is also making it easier than ever before to spread kindness around the world.  How else would I be able to directly help finance a small business in a tiny village in Africa while sitting at my computer at home?  What a great way to truly understand that we live in a global community and that we absolutely can make a difference.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Pervasive Courtesy

     I often hear people complain that "these days" people are so rude.  As they voice these complaints, they'll point out legitimate examples of rude behavior like loud cell phone usage in public places or an aggressive driver cutting someone off.  While I don't disagree that there are plenty of examples of such behavior, I really don't know whether it's any different than it's ever been.  More importantly, I do know that every day I see tons and tons of incidents where people are polite and courteous to each other.  
     What gave rise to these thoughts was something that happened at a restaurant today.  I was standing inside the restaurant, waiting for some people to arrive.  In the lobby area, there seemed to be lots of families with little children.  As each group approached the door, either on their way in or on their way out, I would hold the door open for them.  Sometimes they were juggling multiple children, a baby stroller, and all their baby paraphernalia so it was helpful for them to have the door held open.  I did this for about 5 or 6 minutes so I had the chance to observe lots of people.  Everyone said "thank you" and while I was holding open one set of doors, I often saw others holding another set.  
     It occurred to me that the acts of courtesy that I performed, and that I witnessed others do as well, were completely unremarkable.  Every day, I see people do lots of things to be courteous to each other.  From holding doors open, to letting someone go in front of you in a line, to allowing a car to pull out in traffic, to simply saying "please" and "thank you", I think most people are far more courteous and polite than we often acknowledge.  Perhaps it's simply a case of seeing whatever you're looking for.  If you're looking for rudeness, there's no doubt plenty of it to be found.  But if you're looking for kindness, there's a ton of that to be found as well.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Thanking a "Sponsor"

     In an earlier blog I wrote a few months ago, I mentioned the CEO peer group organization, Vistage International.  It's an organization that puts together primarily CEO's for the purpose of providing executive coaching and peer support.  I've spent quite a bit of time so far this year speaking to Vistage groups all over the country, and I have many more already booked throughout the rest of the year.  It's been a great opportunity for me, and one that began with the recommendation of a friend/client.  Today I sent a thank you note to that person letting them know the impact they had.
     There's a book my wife read last year (I can't remember the name) by a guy who wrote a thank you note every day for a year.  Apparently it had an enormous impact on him and his outlook on life.  Thankfulness, or gratitude, in fact, is often mentioned as one of the "secrets" to a happy life.  As a part of this kindness project, I've been trying to increase my awareness of gratitude and trying to remember to express it more frequently.  Thank you notes are a good step in that direction.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Providing Feedback for a Non-Profit

     I received an e-mail today from, letting me know about a "challenge" that had been posted that fit with my skill set.  Sparked is a site that matches non-profits who have needs with people who are willing to offer their skills to help.  This particular challenge was to provide feedback to a non-profit regarding their website.  
     The challenge gave me a link to their website and I was easily able to identify a number of things that would improve its readability and functionality. By the time I went online, 5 or 6 others had also provided helpful feedback.  What a fast and easy way for a non-profit (or any organization, for that matter) to get support from the community at large.
     I've noted this before, but it continues to fascinate me to see how willing people are to help total strangers.  I and the other people who've posted their feedback don't know those on the other end and likely will never meet them.  And yet, this in no way limits people's willingness to lend a hand.  I see this as another reminder that most people are much more generous that is often thought.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Sending A Card to the Troubled

     Several times this year I've mentioned the website  It's a truly amazing site that connects people who have needs (called "wishes") with people who are willing to help out (called "heroes").  Since it's beginning only a few years ago, more than 92,000 wishes have been granted.  It's an extraordinary testament to the willingness and capacity of people to help each other - even complete strangers.  Tonight I decided to pick a wish to be granted.
     Not all of the wishes necessarily involve money and, this time, I wanted to find one that was more about emotional support than it was about money.  It didn't take long before I read the story that a woman posted about her husband and his challenges.  It seems that he's only 48 but is disabled due to MS and a severe case of diabetes as well.  As you might imagine, he's pretty down and his wife is asking for people to pray for him and to send him cards of encouragement.  I sent her a message initiating the process so that I can send him a meaningful card.
     Within about 15 minutes of having sent the message, I received a reply from the woman giving me her husband's name and address.  I wrote out a card to him and it will be in tomorrow's mail.  
     I lead such a fortunate life with so much to be thankful for.  As a result, it's often difficult for me to truly appreciate, in a visceral way, the suffering and the challenges that so much of the world's population faces on an almost daily basis - both in the US and abroad.  Communicating with and assisting "real" people with "real" challenges helps me to connect in a way that's so much more than academic.  

Monday, June 11, 2012

Anonymous Gift Card

     Today I pulled out one of my old "tricks" - sending an anonymous gift card to a stranger, with a "pay it forward" note.  Here's what I did:
     I chose a random address in a nearby town and wrote out an envelope to it.  Then I took one of my Dunkin' Donuts gift cards and put it in the envelope along with a typed note.  The note said, "Please enjoy this gift from an anonymous stranger wanting to bring a smile to your face.  What can you do today to make someone else's day just a little bit brighter?"  Then I mailed it off.
     As usual with these types of anonymous gestures, I wish I could be a fly on the wall as the recipient opens the mail.  I'd love to know what goes through their mind, if they try to figure out who might have sent it, and most importantly, if they do, in fact, pay it forward by doing something nice for another person.  I sure hope so, though of course, I'll likely never know.  Either way, I at least spread some good cheer today.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Paying Close Attention

     As I noted in my previous blog, I was in LA on Friday/Saturday before meeting Ben at the airport Saturday evening.  During that time, I was staying with a cousin of mine who I hadn't seen in many years.  In fact, it was the first time that I had the chance to meet her husband and her young daughter.  Her husband and I spent a fair amount of time talking about his business and as I listened, it occurred to me that he would get great value from a particular book that I had once read.  Tonight, I had that book sent to him as a gift.
     One of the things I've noticed is that if you pay close attention to what people say, you begin to notice lots of opportunities to do nice things for them.  These opportunities, of course, don't know always have to involve gifts.  Often, it's simply a question of remembering things like their birthday, or an upcoming important event for them, or perhaps an area of particular interest.  Sending them a note or an article or calling them on a special day shows that you care enough about them to notice and remember what's important to them.  It's one of the simplest, yet most impactful ways of showing kindness.

Welcome Home, Ben!

     As many readers know, my son Ben has been away since last July on an 11-month mission trip through a program called The World Race.  It's been an extraordinary journey for him, having spent a month each in Serbia, Romania, India, Nepal, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, and The Philippines.  (You can read his truly inspiring blog here.) Needless to say, we're immensely proud of him, but have missed him terribly as well.  Several months ago, we received an e-mail from him letting us know that he'd be arriving home to the States on the evening of June 9th, in Los Angeles, before catching his final flight home to Philadelphia.  I knew then (actually, I knew the day he left!), that I was going to be there in LA to surprise him, welcome him home, and accompany him on the final leg of his journey.  
     On Friday morning, I flew out to LA and spent the following 30 hours or so visiting with a cousin who I had not seen in almost 15 years.  We had a great time together, but of course, I was counting the hours till I would finally get to see Ben.  Ben's plane was to land around 6:50 pm Saturday and our flight home wasn't until 12:35 am, though he didn't know I'd be with him.  My plan was to go to the gate and wait for him there.  
     My cousin dropped me off at the airport around 8:45 Saturday evening and I immediately went to the US Air counter to check-in.  While I was doing so, who jumps on my back but Ben?!  It turns out that he was just 2 kiosks over, checking in at the same time, and I hadn't even seen him!  Apparently he saw me, but for a few seconds wasn't sure it was me because he wasn't expecting it.  We spent the next several hours getting something to eat and trying to catch up.  
     We made it to Philadelphia around 8:30 am where my wife was there to greet him/us.  By 9:40, we were back in Moorestown, and after a quick shower (Ben's first hot shower in months), and a bagel (his first bagel in nearly a year), he and Catherine were out of the house at 10:25 and on their way to church!
     As anyone who has been away, or had loved ones away for a long time, knows, time is such a strange concept.  In some ways, it feels like it's been forever since Ben first left.  And yet, at the same time, it seems like just yesterday.  Having him home doesn't seem strange at all, like he belongs here, though I realize he'll be gone again soon (back to college in August).  I'm glad I made the effort to travel across the country to be there when he arrived.  We don't get many moments like that in our lives, and I wasn't going to miss the chance.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Letter Writing Time

     Today proved to be a good day to take time to write to my adopted soldier/friend in Afghanistan.  Regular readers of my blog may remember some of my early posts when I expressed some frustration about the challenges of writing to my soldier when I hadn't yet heard anything back from him.  It was like carrying on a one-way conversation and it became difficult to think of what to say.  
     Now, though, we've exchanged many e-mails, including family pictures, and I feel like we've built a nice relationship.  This makes it so much easier to think of things to talk about, and it certainly makes it more rewarding for me.  I know he's getting my messages, I can write things of interest to him, and I know that receiving mail (physical and electronic) is truly important to him.  I look forward to the chance to finally meet him in person when his deployment is up in October.  

Thursday, June 7, 2012

On the Road Again

     As I mentioned in last night's blog post, today I had agreed to do another patient drive as part of the American Cancer Society's Road to Recovery program.  This is the program that matches volunteer drivers with cancer patients who are in need of transportation to their appointments.  It was yet another great experience.
     I had gotten an e-mail and phone call from the patient services coordinator at the Cancer Society because they had a last minute request for a patient needing a ride to the appointment in the morning and then back home in the afternoon.  Since I already had another commitment for the morning, I offered to drive her home if a 2-way driver couldn't be found.  Apparently this was agreeable and I was given the "assignment."
     As usual, the patient was tremendously appreciative.  We had a great conversation on the way home as I learned about her upbringing, her children, and her grandchildren.  She was one of those people who I suspect is nearly always happy.  My sense is that she lived a very fulfilling life, and she was pleased to have most of her immediate family living pretty nearby.  By her demeanor, one would never even know she had cancer.
     I don't mean at all to suggest here that people who have a serious illness like cancer can just smile their way through it and it won't affect them.  But I do wonder what impact, if any, this woman's attitude and perspective on life might have on how she deals with her illness.  Admittedly, I don't know a thing about any of these patients' diagnoses or their treatments.   I only know that's it's fascinating to get to know them, to observe their similarities and differences, and to know that I'm providing a much-needed and appreciated service to them.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Another Ride

     This afternoon I picked up a patient from her chemo treatments and gave her a ride back home.  It was actually the same person I had driven a week or two ago so I think her familiarity with me made it that much more comfortable for her.  As we did the last time, we had plenty to talk about as we filled each other in about our families and their lives.  Here are just a few of my reflections from this activity:
  • As I sat in the doctor's office and waited for her to be released from her treatment, I couldn't help but notice how difficult it must be to work in a place where there seems to be so much suffering.  To their credit, the staff seemed to be upbeat and positive.  The patients, though, truly are gravely ill.  It must take extraordinary compassion to be there to support them on a daily basis.
  • When I dropped off my patient and helped her up the steps to her house and then turned to go home, I tried to imagine what the rest of the day would be like for her.  Her spouse died a few years ago after a long period of illness.  Her children are grown and she lives alone.  Though she does not come across as someone lonely or depressed at all, I couldn't help but wonder how it must feel to deal with her illness alone.  Maybe her children come to visit each night; I don't really know.  But there must be thousands and thousands of patients who face the frightening prospect of illness and old age mostly alone, with minimal, if any support network.
  • It really is rewarding to be able to help people through this particular program.  I enjoy getting to know the people, and it's clear that I'm making a difference for them.  When you stop and think about it, it's really quite remarkable, and heartening, to realize how many people volunteer in programs like these - helping total strangers for no other reason that because it's needed.  It's another reminder that people really are mostly good.
     Tomorrow I've agreed to do another ride for a last-minute request.  More on that tomorrow night . . . 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

What's In It For Me?

     I spent some time today making a number of phone calls to people I know from my former industry, trying to connect a family friend in need of a referral with one or more vendors who I trust could handle his situation effectively.  It will take some more legwork and some back and forth dialogue to make this happen in a way that I'm comfortable; but it's important that I find the right person  to help our friend and his company.  As I was working on this, it occurred to me that one of the worst questions asked in many situations is "What's in it for me?"
     There's a principle I learned years ago in sales that applies more broadly to our lives in general:  the more you help other people get what they want, the more success you'll have yourself.  I've always found that if my primary focus is on helping other people - whether in business or in my personal life, good things tend to happen.  It's a pretty simple approach, but it's amazing how well it works.
     I'm not suggesting, by the way, that personal interest should be ignored or that it's irrelevant - just that it shouldn't be our primary driver.  I know that I get pretty turned off by people whose first thought is always about what's in it for them.  I'm not expecting (nor would I accept) anything in return for helping make the connections I mentioned above.  If it's good for both my friend and the vendor, then I will have succeeded.  
     Kindness, of course, follows a similar path.  We help others simply because it's good to be kind.  While there may be personal rewards - satisfaction, happiness, good feelings - these are byproducts of our actions, not the reason for the actions.  

Monday, June 4, 2012

Can There Be Too Much Kindness?

     Earlier this year I wrote a blog post about the notion of "balancing the scales" (see Keeping the Scales Balanced) when it comes to kindness.  In that piece, I was reflecting on my observation that sometimes it can be uncomfortable for people when you do nice things for them and either the scale is too large and/or they don't have an opportunity to in some way repay the kindness.  I did something today that raised that same potential issue in my mind.  Here's what happened:
     I'm going to keep this a little vague only because I don't want the recipient to feel uncomfortable if he happens to read this post.  I was with this friend recently and he mentioned something he had been contemplating buying for himself.  While he doesn't struggle financially by any stretch of the imagination, funds are still somewhat limited and he has to be pretty careful about what he spends.  I knew that he wanted this item but had been holding off on getting it for some time.
     I really wanted to get it for him so I just went ahead and ordered it shipped to his house from an anonymous friend.  It wasn't ridiculously expensive, but it was more than the kind of token expense (like a drink or a meal) that friends might normally do for each other.
     This got me thinking again about the idea that there are certain amounts of money that we can spend on each other without much of a second thought.  The amount will vary with different sets of people based on their social culture and their economic means; yet I suspect the principle is the same.  For example, it's perfectly OK for me to spend $15 or $20 to buy someone lunch.  But if I bought them an item that cost $1000, it would create some awkwardness.  And if I bought them something for $10,000, it would be even more uncomfortable for them.  
     The interesting thing is where we draw the line.  Is it at $25, or $50, or $100 or where?  And how does that get established.  Again, it's different for different people, but I suspect there is a dividing line in almost all circumstances.  It's the dividing line between what feels small enough that I don't feel indebted to you, and where on the other side I may feel a little weird about it.
     I don't have any brilliant conclusion about this phenomenon.  It's just something I've noticed related to kindness.  A little kindness seems to be a wonderful thing to receive; but too much kindness can sometimes be awkward for the recipient.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

My Book As A Gift

     This afternoon my wife told me that she had recently bumped into a craftsman we know who had worked on our house.  He's a great guy, and a true professional in an industry that isn't always known for professionalism.  In fact, he's building a pretty impressive company with a strong culture.  He mentioned to my wife that he's been really wanting to read my book but hasn't gotten around to ordering a copy of it.
     When I see situations like these, where I know someone will truly get significant value from it, I like to send out a signed copy of my book as a personal gift.  Of course, I don't just sign it; I inscribe it with a personal note that I think will be meaningful to the individual.  Today I went ahead and sent one to this man.  I'm confident that he'll not just enjoy it, but will put the book's lessons to good use as well.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

A Community of Helpers

     Today was "Moorestown Day" in my hometown.  This means that Main Street was closed to traffic and tons of vendors of all types were out displaying their items up and down the street.  It's always a festive day, beginning with the annual Rotary 8k Run, and finishing up around 3:00 in the afternoon.  It was a beautiful day and lots of people were out enjoying the springtime weather.
     In the early afternoon, I was at home when I received a call from a friend who works at our town library.  The library was having a book sale today (in conjunction with Moorestown Day) and at the conclusion of the sale, literally thousands of books needed to be boxed and loaded into a van.  My friend was asking for volunteers to come and help at 3:00.  My initial response to her request was that I wasn't available because I had a couple of other things planned for the later afternoon; but the more I thought about it, the more I realized I could at least get there at 3 and get in 45 minutes of help.  And that's what I did.
     When I arrived, there actually were a fair number of people who were already starting on the task at hand.  Before long, a bunch more had also arrived.  It was truly a case of "many hands making light work."  It's amazing how much work can be done pretty quickly when lots of people work together.  It reminded me of some other larger scale projects I've been involved in in town - building a playground, building a running trail, etc. - where we were able to accomplish a tremendous amount in a relatively short amount of time simply because we had so much help.
     Back in 2007, Money Magazine named Moorestown the best small town in America.  There were lots of reasons for this, but unquestionably the sense of community spirit and volunteerism was and is a big part of it.  While I think Moorestown is a pretty cool place with many unique aspects to it, I suspect that a similar volunteer spirit exists in thousands upon thousands of small towns across this country.  I think people naturally seek community, and a big part of what it means to be a community is people helping each other out.  We could also call it kindness.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Time for a Care Package

     It had been a little over a month since I last sent a care package to my adopted soldier in Afghanistan so I figured today would be a good day to put one together.  When we exchanged e-mails last week I had asked him if there was anything in particular he wanted.  Peanut butter was his main request!
     Taking a trip to Target, I bought some peanut butter, some powdered drink mix (one of his requests from last time), some breakfast bars and granola bars, and some trail mix.  I packed them all in a box, enclosed a personal note, and got them to the post office before they closed for the evening.  If it works like last time, he should get them sometime next week.
     In his last e-mail, he included some pictures from his recent leave when he got to be back home with his fiancĂ© and his family.  It was pretty cool to finally get to put a face with a name.  His notes also make it pretty clear that, as I had been told, getting mail from home is a really big deal and means an awful lot to our soldiers.  It's a pretty easy thing we can do to show them our support.