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

Friday, August 31, 2012

Last Care Package

     Well, today I sent my last care package to my adopted soldier in Afghanistan.  The reason it's his last is because, thankfully, he's heading home in just 4 or 5 weeks!  I know he's eager to get back to his home in Kentucky and prepare for his December wedding.  He has lots to look forward to.
     I did a little grocery shopping for him and I filled a pretty good size box with lots of different snacks including, of course, more peanut butter.  It felt a little strange thinking this is the last time I'll do this for him.  I haven't yet decided whether I'll adopt another soldier when he gets home.  Of course, I can still send care packages to our soldiers overseas even without specifically "adopting" any of them so I may just do that for awhile. 
     You always hear stories about how much our support from home means to our troops serving around the world and I'm glad to have been a part of that support. I can also say that if most of our troops are anything like my adopted soldier, I'm proud of the job they do representing (and protecting) our country.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Being A Guest Writer

     A good friend of mine runs a company in which values are regularly discussed and practiced.  They refer to their values as "tenets" and they have 25 of them that they teach.  One of the ways they keep these tenets relevant is by sending a weekly e-mail to their staff focusing on a particular "tenet of the week."  To make things interesting, they occasionally ask a "guest writer" to author one of these weekly messages.  Today it was my pleasure to write a message for them.
     The tenet I wrote about was related to the concept of learning to suspend our judgment and become more curious.  I have a whole chapter on this topic in my book so I have a lot to say on the issue!  If you've not read it, it's the chapter called "Fundamental #30."  I won't try to explain it all here because it's well worth the full read.  In any case, I hope my message proves to be meaningful for the employees of my friend's company.
     In my business career, I had many similar opportunities to learn from others and, in turn, to share my knowledge freely as well.  There was one person, in particular, who demonstrated to me a generosity of spirit that has had far reaching impact, well beyond anything he may have contemplated or even realizes today.  His willingness to share his knowledge so openly with me caused me to "pay it forward" to many others.  In turn, each of these people has also paid it forward and I've had the opportunity to witness this firsthand. It's yet another reminder that we never really know the far-reaching impact that a simple act of kindness may have. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Making Contact

     I did an interesting experiment today as I was traveling home from Atlanta.  I wanted to see how often I could make strangers smile by making eye contact with them and smiling.  I had some fascinating observations.
     The first thing I noticed is how few people actually make eye contact with strangers.  Some keep their eyes down or focused straight ahead, never really looking at others - kind of like many people do in an elevator.  Today I tried to look at each person I was passing. But not just look at them as an object to be observed; rather, to look into their eyes.  Some people acknowledged this and met my eyes, while others seemed to avert theirs.
     When I was really able to connect with someone's eyes and then smile at them, it most often elicited a smile back.  It got me thinking about the power of eye contact and smiles.  We probably have all had the experience that when we smile, we feel happier, even if we were in a bad mood before.  Well what if everyone smiled at each other, causing more people to smile as a result?  Wouldn't that likely cause more happiness, and in turn, more kindness?  I suspect it would.
     It was also fascinating to notice and to contemplate the way in which we can actually connect with people without ever touching them physically or even talking to them.  Simply by making eye contact, it's like a bond was created.  Perhaps this is why some people avert their eyes to avoid that contact.  Perhaps they're afraid of the intimacy that is somehow created with a stranger.  It never occurred to be before just how powerful a tool our eyes are.

Giving Directions

     I was at the Philadelphia airport this morning and as I was walking toward my gate, I saw two women of Asian descent, looking confused as they tried to figure out where they needed to go.  I stopped and asked them if they needed help.  With somewhat limited English, they indicated that they needed to get to Gate B9 (we were in the C terminal).  I was able to explain to them just how to get there and sent them on their way.
     As I reflected later, I noticed two things about this interaction.  First, I was glad that I went out of my way to notice their confusion and offer to help.  Plenty of other people may have responded if they asked for assistance, but not done anything more proactive.  Second, I realized in retrospect that I could have done more.  I could easily have walked them to the gate rather than simply pointing the direction and explaining the steps.  While I may not always have time to do so, in this particular instance, I did in fact have enough time before my flight to easily walk them to their destination and make it back in time.  
     Too often we think of these things after the fact.  Hopefully this recognition will at least make me more aware the next time I'm in a similar situation so that I can go the extra steps to be of even greater help to someone in need.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Come In Out of the Rain

     This morning we had one of those passing, scattered thunderstorms that can bring a ton of rain in a very short period of time.  I was out running a few errands when the downpour started.  It was raining so heavily that I could barely see the road.  When I returned home and began to pull into our garage, I noticed a young man standing under the overhang outside of the garage, trying in vain to stay dry.  It turns out that he was the PSEG guy (that's our electric and gas company in NJ) here to read the meter on the outside of our house.
     After I pulled into the garage, I went back to chat with him and told him that I'd leave the garage door open so that he could wait inside the garage and stay dry.  I then went inside and grabbed a bottle of cold water from the refrigerator and went back out to offer it to him while he waited.  He was quite appreciative.
     In my old company, we had a list of principles that we taught and practiced that were called our "Fundamentals."  One of them said, "Work from the assumption that people are good, fair, and honest."  Some people would have been worried about allowing a stranger to hang out in their garage unattended.  What if he stole something or broke into our house?  I don't think that way.  I'd rather start from the assumption that he's a good person and treat him from that perspective.  I had no problem being kind to him and allowing him free reign of our garage.  I believed that he would repay my trust by demonstrating his trustworthiness.  I find that when we show kindness and trust, we receive kindness and trust.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Switching It Up

     So far this year I've bought flowers a number of times and given them to all kinds of strangers - people I met in a parking lot, people working in an office, people in nursing homes, and people in hospitals, to name just a few.  I've also focused most of my acts of kindness, by design, on those outside of my family and immediate circle of friends.  Today I decided it was time to switch that up a bit and bring it closer to home - so I bought flowers for my wife.
     We all know how easy it is to take those closest to us for granted at times, and I'm no better than anyone else in that regard.  In some respects, I suppose, the stronger our home life is, the easier it is to focus our efforts outward.  And yet, in doing so, while we're able to make great contributions to others, we also run the risk of not giving enough attention to those we love and  are with every day.  Today was a day to at least put a small dent in reversing that trend.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Helping Out Another Family

     It's been awhile since I've granted a wish through one of my favorite sites,  As you may recall, this is a site that connects people who need help (wishers) with those who are able to provide that help (heroes).  To date, over 94,000 wishes, large and small, have been granted!
     Tonight I decided to help out a family in Birmingham, Alabama.  This is a single parent family with 4 children whose dryer just broke.  They needed just a little help paying for the repairs.  It certainly didn't impact me much to assist them, and yet, the impact to the family can be significant.  It was my pleasure to make a difference for them.
     Each time I go to the Wish site, I'm struck by the thousands of examples of true generosity.  Nearly always, these are strangers helping other strangers.  The heroes will likely never meet or personally know those to whom they've given help.  Their only reward is the satisfaction of knowing they made a difference.  While the daily news may be filled with stories of doom and gloom, it's my observation and experience that the vast majority of people are actually extraordinarily generous.  It's a shame our view gets so distorted by the few examples of the opposite.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Some Sad News

     I received sad news today that an old college friend of mine recently lost her husband after a bout with cancer.  It's hard to imagine what she must be going through right now as I understand that it all happened rather quickly.  While there may not be much I can do from a distance, I can at least let her know that I'm thinking of her.  I went ahead and wrote out a personal note to her which I'll get out in tomorrow's mail.  

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Spreading Some Unexpected Cheer

     As I was coming home from Miami today, making my way through  the Philadelphia airport B terminal toward baggage claim, I noticed one of the airport maintenance (?) workers emptying trash cans into a big wheeled collection receptacle. He looked like a guy who people rarely noticed, and even more rarely acknowledged - one of those workers who sort of fades into the background.  I decided it might be nice to show him some kindness.
     I pulled out one of my McDonald's gift cards, walked up to him, explained what I had, and offered it to him.  He smiled, but looked at me with a strange, quizzical kind of expression, unsure of why I would do this.  I simply told him that I wanted him to have a nice day, and I asked him to do something nice for someone else in return.  
     I often wonder what these people (the recipients of my gift cards, etc.) tell people when they get home at night.  How do they explain what happened and how does it affect them?  I wish I could be a fly on the wall to hear that.  As with so many of these acts though, I'll never really know the impact, and have to simply be satisfied that I at least set in motion some positive energy today.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

What Criteria Should I Use?

     I used one of my Starbucks gift cards today and it led to some interesting thoughts about kindness, and in particular, what criteria to use when selecting a recipient.  Let me explain what happened.
     I flew to Miami this afternoon and, after landing, headed to the car rental center to pick up my car.  I was thinking of giving one of the workers there a gift card, but wasn't sure who.  The woman who gave me the keys and paperwork was very friendly, but I decided to wait and give it to the guy who checks everything before you exit the lot.  When I pulled up, he wasn't overly friendly - not bad, just not very enthusiastic.  I asked him for some directions which he gave me, and then I asked if he liked Starbucks coffee.  When he said that he did, I gave him the card and told him to do something nice for someone else.
     As I was with him, I was really hoping that he would be particularly friendly and helpful so that I could feel like the gift card was in some way a thank you or a reward for his good service, rather than giving a card to someone who was average at best.  On the other hand, I was also thinking that I can (and should) be kind, regardless of their actions.  At some level, my kindness toward them shouldn't be overly influenced by what they are up to.  In fact, perhaps showing kindness to someone not doing anything special might be the spark that causes them to awaken to the possibilities within themselves.  Or maybe not?!
     This is an issue I've thought about a lot of times this year, and will continue to ponder as well.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Rite of Passage

     This morning, my wife and I participated in one of those rites of passage that so many parents are making at this time of year all over the country - moving a child into a college dorm.  Of course, this isn't new for us, as it's the third year of school for both our daughter, Hannah, and our son, Ben.  Today it was time to get Hannah situated in the sorority house in which she'll be living at the College of William & Mary.
     Believe it or not, we needed to rent a mini-van to get all of her things (including a lot of clothes!) from our house in New Jersey down to Virginia.  With the van stuffed, we drove down on Sunday, spending a couple of days there before moving her in this morning, and then driving home to our now empty house.  The move-in went quite smoothly as we were able to park close to her house and get the van unloaded pretty quickly.  
     We spent the morning getting everything up to her room, helping her get it set up to her satisfaction, and of course, making a run to Target for a variety of necessary items.  I noticed a real sense of community as people were quick to help each other carrying heavy items or just reducing the number of necessary trips back and forth to the car.  We each helped other families, and they helped us as well.  Of particular help was a maintenance man who assisted me getting a refrigerator up to the third floor of the sorority house.  I even took care of disposing of a dead cockroach for a family of women that didn't want to go near it!
     One of the things I noticed in this process is the impact that shared experience has in causing people to help each other.  In this case, each family knew what it's like to have so much to carry or to set up, and they knew how much easier it is when they get help.  As a result, everyone is quicker to offer that same help to others that they received themselves.  I suppose that's what a "community" is all about.

Monday, August 20, 2012

A Few Small Gifts

     Recently, someone I know has been dealing with some difficult news.  While time will likely make things easier, it's nevertheless challenging in the short term.  Undoubtedly, the support of family and friends can help.
     Today I went around to a variety of places this person likes to frequent and bought gift cards from each.  Then I got a nice card, wrote out a note, put all the cards and the note into an envelope, and delivered them all to the person.
     It's fun to surprise a stranger with an unexpected act of kindness.  Sometimes, though, the need/opportunity for kindness shows up among those closest to us.  In these cases, it's clearly best to seize those chances to make a difference.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Making Another Loan

     Tonight my daughter and I decided to get back into the banking business.  I've talked about the website before.  This is a site that facilitates the making of "microloans" to people all over the world, particularly in third world developing nations.  I have already partipated in 4 loans and all are beginning to make repayments.  Tonight we used those repayments plus some new money to contribute toward a loan for a woman in Nicaragua who is looking to expand her small business selling fruits and vegetables.  
     This is one of the coolest sites I've seen.  How amazing is it that sitting in my living room at home I can make loans to help others around the world gain greater self-sufficiency?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Turning a Delay Into An Opportunity

     As most readers know, my acts of kindness this year have varied in so many different ways.  While some are planned, others are a response to a situation that unfolds.  My flight home from Cleveland presented me with one of those opportunities.
     This is a story of one of those frustrating flight delays that seem to happen too often.  The inbound plane from Philly had just arrived and unloaded and we were about to begin the boarding process when the gate attendants announced that the plane had had a "bird strike" and that it had to be evaluated by maintenance before we'd be able to board, and ultimately, take off.  They reported that maintenance should be there in 15-20 minutes and then we'd get another update.
     Well, 45 minutes later they announced that the maintenance person was coming from Akron Ohio and would be there in about 30-40 more minutes.  At the same time, the gate attendants were busily going through the entire passenger list to rebook those people who had connections that would now be missed.  As you can imagine, people were pretty frustrated, myself included.
     Well, about an hour later, they announced that this same maintenance person was reportedly 20 minutes away still!  The remaining passengers let out a collective groan, expressing more pent-up frustration.  I went through my own range of emotions at the delay, at times angry at the multiple incorrect reports we were given, and at other times trying to keep it all in perspective and realize it's not that big a deal and at least I had no connections to make or commitments to meet.  I just wanted to get home.
     As you can imagine, the gate attendants were pretty fried.  They had been doing the best they could, working non-stop, frequently forced to share bad news that was out of their control.  Seeing the opportunity, I went to a nearby vendor and bought three bottles of cold water and delivered them to the three exhausted attendants.  They were in total shock.  They said it's exactly what they needed at that moment and one said it was the nicest thing anyone had done for them.  
     Earlier in the day, I had gone to Bruegger's and got a fresh dozen of my favorite bagels to bring home.  I decided it might be nice to share them with others who might enjoy them, so I walked around and offered a bagel to anyone who wanted one.  While no one actually took me up on the offer, they clearly appreciated it nonetheless.  
     It's interesting how, when faced with a difficult situation, if we focus our attention on how we can help others rather than on our own misery, we can significantly change the complexion of the event and how it affects us.  A lesson I need to try to remember in the future . . . 

Friday, August 17, 2012

A Thank You Book

     One of my favorite gifts to send people is a book, especially when I have a book that I know a particular person will really enjoy or get value from.  Sometimes I like to do this anonymously, but other times I send it with a personal note when it relates to a particular conversation we may have had.  Today's act of kindness fit into the latter category.
     I was staying with a friend of mine recently and we had many conversations about his business.  I mentioned to him a specific book that I knew would be perfect for him.  Though he might eventually get around to checking it out, I figured it would be faster for me to just buy him a copy and send it to him (or order through Amazon).  I ordered it today and had it shipped with a note so that he'll have it next week.
     Gifts like these really let people know that you're thinking about them because they're so targeted to a specific need or conversation.  I know my friend will love this book, so I'm eager for him to read it.

Paying It Forward With Yogurt

     I spent a beautiful afternoon in the Cleveland area on Thursday.  I had completed my morning talk and had a little time before my next commitment so I was looking for somewhere to "hang" for a little while and enjoy the sunshine.  Discovering a fabulous "Main Street style" shopping area, I wandered  in and out of shops, sat on some benches, and eventually found myself at a frozen yogurt place called Menchies.  After getting myself a nice treat, I bought a $5 gift card and decided to look for someone to give it to.
     It's always interesting to try to pick someone to surprise with a gift.  I usually try to find someone who is alone since it would feel weird to give something to one person, but not the others with whom they may be traveling. I also try to pick someone who might be surprised, but not put off by my offer.  
     After a little while of wandering, I saw a woman sitting on a bench by herself.  I walked up to her and explained that I had a gift card for Menchies and I asked her if she'd like to have it.  Looking at me with some confusion, she was speechless at first, but then said, ". . . Really??".  I responded that my only condition was that she do something nice for someone else, and I asked her if she would do that.  When she said, "Definitely", I gave her the card and wished her a great day.
     The rest of the afternoon, I had such a strong sense of how good (my) life is.  It was a beautiful day, the sun was out, I was in a gorgeous place, I had just spread some kindness with a  "pay it forward" component, and I was getting ready to spend the evening with some great friends.  No worries for me.  It doesn't get much better . . . 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Letter Writing Time

     Today was my day to write to my adopted soldier in Afghanistan.  As you may recall, one of the commitments I made as a part of the adopted soldier program is to write a least one letter (or e-mail) every single week.  I usually try to do this on Wednesdays, just so that there is a routine to it.
     As I've been doing this for more than 7 months now, I can readily see why it's important that the program establish expected guidelines/commitments.  Without this, it would be very easy to "drift" into writing less and less frequently.  Like anything else, having some structure, even in the form of a commitment, helps to keep it going.  And, of course, the benefits of keeping it going, for both me and the soldier are significant.
     On an even broader scale, it's why I made the commitment this year to do an act of kindness every day.  Without that commitment, it would be easy to let things slide; but my determination to keep my commitment won't allow that.  And as a result, I get to experience the learning and growth that come with doing 366 days of kindness.  Commitment is everything.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Traveling More Personally

     For me, traveling is usually a pretty impersonal experience.  By this I mean that I'm usually pretty wrapped up in my own cocoon, existing amidst lots of other people, but mostly in my own world.  Sure there are interactions with parking shuttle bus drivers, TSA agents, flight attendants, and other passengers, but the interactions are at a perfunctory level at best.  Today I decided to try to make it a different (and kinder) experience.
     There were two parts to what I did differently today.  The first was something I've mentioned before - paying particular attention to using people's names.  In the travel world, unlike it many other areas, it seems that most people do wear a name tag.  It doesn't take much effort to notice their name, look them in the eye, and converse with them by name - even if it's simply to say thank you.  I find that it makes the interaction much more human, rather than simply transactional.  If the name is unusual, I'll ask the person how to pronounce it and where it comes from.  I find that they usually seem to appreciate someone taking an interest in them.  I had dinner in a hotel restaurant tonight and when the waitress didn't introduce herself (most seem to do so), I asked her her name and also told her mine.  I was then sure to use her name each time I addressed her.
     The second thing I did differently today was to engage in conversation with the passenger sitting next to me on the plane.  This may not seem like a big deal, but I'm usually pretty reserved and don't typically initiate the conversation.  It turns out that the guy I was sitting next to was a fascinating man (a pathologist involved in various forms of drug testing) and we talked nearly the whole way.  I think he's even going to order my book!  Anyway, it made it a much more interesting trip and a lot less lonely.
     I'm not quite sure why it is the most of us (and certainly me) tend to avoid making personal connections with people we don't already know.  It's as if we put a force field or a protective membrane around ourselves.  But what are we protecting ourselves against?  I'm trying to be more conscious of keeping the defenses down and looking to create more connection.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Flowers With A Twist

     It's been awhile since I've given flowers to a stranger so I thought today might be a good day for that.  To mix it up, I did something slightly different this time, and I also had an interesting exchange with someone.  Here's what happened:
     I went to Wegmans where I often go for fresh flowers, and I picked out a colorful bouquet (don't ask me what kind of flowers they were!).  I hadn't quite decided yet who I'd give them to, but as I was leaving the store, a woman saw me and said, "Oooh. . . . are you in trouble with someone?"  I know she was joking, but still, it was an interesting reaction.  I responded that I was giving them to someone just to be nice.
     With the flowers in my car, I headed to the "other side" of town to look for someone to be my recipient.  I was thinking of going to the shopping center that has a laundromat and a dollar store and choosing someone there.  However, as I was approaching the center, I passed a garden apartment complex and had another idea.
     I took out a piece of paper and wrote, "Please enjoy these flowers as a gift from a stranger.  All I ask is in return is that you do something nice for someone else."  Then I took the note and the bouquet and I placed them on the front step of one of the apartments where they'll be seen by the residents when they return home from work.
     As is always the case with anonymous acts, I'd love to be a fly on the wall to hear their reaction and to see what, if anything, they do for someone else.  Alas, I'll have to be satisfied with having set the ball in motion and trust in the universe that I've at least starting something good.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

An Anonymous Gift

     One of my favorite things to do this year has been to send a book to someone who I think would really value it, but to send it as a gift from "an anonymous friend."  There a few different books I've read over the years that I  often like to use as a gift, depending on the circumstances.  Tonight, I had a book sent by Amazon to someone I met in a recent consulting engagement.
     The book I sent was The Aladdin Factor, by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen.  It's a great book that highlights just how much is available to each of us, if we only learn to ask.  It also examines some of the reasons people have such difficulty asking for what they want, and gives useful strategies to overcome this hesitancy.  As with other books by these authors, the book mostly uses inspiring anecdotes to share its important lessons.
     The person to whom I sent the book is someone I only met for a short time, but it didn't take long for me to suspect that she would particularly enjoy it, and most importantly, would benefit from its wisdom.  Since she doesn't know me well, I'm fairly certain that she'll have absolutely no idea who the "anonymous friend" was who sent the gift.  It will probably drive her nuts, but perhaps she'll be that much nicer (not to imply that she isn't usually nice) to everyone she comes in contact with in case that person is her anonymous friend.  Wouldn't that be a pretty cool result?!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Listening for Key Dates

     Last fall, I was traveling to another city and, as I often do, made a point to connect with a former business associate and friend.  We only had a couple of hours together but it was great to see him.  In the course of our conversation, I learned that the previous August he had been the recipient of an organ transplant.  Not surprisingly, it was a very emotional topic for him, and he is forever grateful for the donation.  When I got home, I made a note in my calendar to be sure to recognize the anniversary of his transplant each year.
     Tomorrow is the official day, and so not being sure if I'd be able to reach him tomorrow, I called his home (and his cell) this evening.  Unfortunately, I wasn't able to catch him in person, but did leave a detailed message letting him know that I was thinking of him as this very special day approaches and that I was sending positive thoughts his way.
     I'm certain that my call was a pleasant surprise to him and that he didn't think I'd remember the day.  If you listen carefully to what people tell you though, and if you care enough to develop a good method for recording and then remembering special days or events, it's not difficult at all.  I enjoy surprising people in this way; however, the bigger enjoyment is in making a deeper personal connection.  
     It seems to me that we have so many meaningless conversations each day, filled with small talk in an almost automated fashion.  I get so tired of these types of conversations, and hate to even participate in them.  Instead, I love the chance to connect more deeply and more meaningfully, and then to renew that connection at some future point by relating to something I learned that's unique about the person.  For me, these are much more satisfying relationships.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Another Personal Note

     Continuing yesterday's theme of handwritten notes, today I sent a note to someone I know who just dropped off her only child to college for the first time.  I sure remember how I dreaded that day, and how difficult it was.  I actually cried enough when we dropped off Ben that my wife had to take over the driving!  To make matters more difficult for the person to whom I wrote, this was also her only child.  
     In difficult times it's nice to know you have the support of friends and family and a handwritten note conveys that support in ways that other means don't necessarily do.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

A Note of Good Wishes

     I recently learned of a friend who got banged up in a bicycle accident.  Though he's recovering well, I thought it might be nice to send off a handwritten note letting him know that I was thinking of him and wishing him well.  And that's exactly what I did this evening.
     Though e-mail is certainly a fast and effective method for communicating, sometimes you can't beat a hand-written note received in the US mail.  There's something about opening an envelope and realizing that someone took the time to think of you.  It's a bit of a lost art, but one worth holding onto.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

More Grains of Rice

     Tonight, sitting in a hotel on my computer, I was able to help feed the hungry.  How?  Pretty easy, actually.  I simply went to and spent some time challenging myself in a variety of subjects.
     I've written about this site before.  It's a non-profit site that's owned by and supports the United Nations World Food Program.  Sponsors, in the form of advertisers, donate money to buy grains of rice based on activity on the site.  The site has 8 different subject areas, each with several sub-categories.  In each area, there are tons of questions in multiple levels of difficulty.  You challenge yourself to answer as many questions correctly as you can.  For each correct answer, 10 grains of rice is donated to the program.  Tonight, I donated 1500 grains of rice, and learned some things at the same time.  Not bad!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Kindness At the Airport

      This one will take a little background explanation.  Fresh bagels are among my most favorite foods in the world, and my favorite bagels are from Bruegger’s.  Unfortunately, most Bruegger’s on the East Coast closed down a number of years ago, so whenever I’m in a part of the country where I can get them, I take advantage of it.  Well, in the Pittsburgh airport, they actually have a Bruegger’s and it was right across from the gate for my flight home today!
     As I walked up to the counter to order a bagel sandwich for lunch, the woman behind the counter asked how I was.  When I said, “awesome” she told me that she was “awesomer!”  She then proceeded to dialogue with me about exactly how I wanted my sandwich and she made several suggestions/recommendations.  Seeing the genuine pride and care with which she went about making my sandwich, I asked her if she liked Starbucks.  When she said that she did, I gave her one of my Starbucks gift cards.  Surprised, she asked if I was one of those “Starbucks company people”, assuming I was somehow tasked with spreading Starbucks cards.  Instead, I answered that I was just a guy who appreciated her taking such good care of me.  She was so pleased and touched.  Typical of people who are focused on excellence, she told me that I didn’t have to do that because it was her pleasure to help me. 
     What a great exchange this was.  My day was improved by interacting with her, and her day was improved by a surprise gift!

Monday, August 6, 2012

An Eventful Trip to Rita's

     After putting in a long day of work today and having dinner with clients, I got back to my hotel and decided it would be nice to get out for a walk to clear my head and maybe get some ice cream.  When I asked for suggestions from the person at the front desk, I learned that there was a Rita's not too far away.  He gave me a map and some instructions warning me to stay on the main roads because some of the neighborhoods near there weren't the nicest.  Off I went.
     My hotel is directly across the street from PNC Park and the Pirates were playing at home tonight so the area was fairly busy.  Before I had walked 5 minutes, I was approached by a man (a beggar?) who first wanted to sell me a ticket but when I said I didn't want one he decided to shift strategies.  He told me that he was a Christian (I think this was to imply that he was safe) and pulled out his Bible to "prove" it.  He then said that he hadn't been able to feed himself or his daughter all day (I'm not sure where she was??) and asked if I could help with some money for McDonald's.  Well, I happened to be carrying one of my gift cards to McDonald's so I said I'd give him that.  At least I knew he could only use it for its intended purpose.
     As I continued on my way I did get to some fairly "sketchy" areas but eventually found the Rita's.  It was 8:54, and though the hours posted said they were open till 9:00, the doors were locked.  I saw someone inside cleaning up and when she refused to acknowledge me or the time, I figured it was a lost cause.  I did find a gas station with a market where I could get myself an ice cream sandwich, which I enjoyed on my way back.
     As I started on the return journey I passed a man who appeared to have been at the game.  He was friendly and we exchanged "hello's" as we passed.  A moment later the young man stopped and explained that he had been at the game, had a fight with his wife, and was now trying to get a bus ride home.  He wondered if I could spare even some loose change to help him out.  I gave him the change that was in my pocket from having just bought the ice cream sandwich, and he seemed genuinely appreciative, as expressed with his "God Bless You" parting.
     It's certainly possible, and perhaps even probable (?), that both of the people to whom I gave money were scam artists.  I suspect the first guy did not have a daughter and I doubt (though it's not really relevant) that he was a Christian; but I do think that he was hurting on a variety of levels and so if my gift card helped him out even just a little bit, then it was certainly worth it.  The same is true of the second person.  I somehow believe the second man may have been telling me the truth; but here, again, even if he wasn't, he clearly was down on his luck and if my spare change was helpful to him, then I'm glad I was able to help.
     I don't really know, nor will I ever know, the full stories of these two people, what caused their struggles, and what led them to cross my path tonight.  It certainly is not my place to guess or to judge.  They needed help and I chipped in.  That's all that matters, I think.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Helping Injured Soldiers

     As I was flying from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh this evening, I started to flip through the US Air magazine.  On the next to last page was an article that caught my attention.  There was a picture of an American soldier, sitting in a wheelchair, having lost his legs as the result of an IED explosion.  The article was called Helping Heroes and was about how you can donate US Air frequent flier miles to any of 5 different organizations, one of which - Fisher House - was being featured in the article.
    Fisher House, I learned, is an incredible organization that helps the families of injured soldiers to visit them wherever they may be rehabbing or being treated.  Donated frequent flier miles are used to help fly these family members around the country so that they can be with their loved ones and support them through their recovery.  This seemed like a pretty darn good way to support our troops.
     When I finally got to my hotel this evening, I went on line to see how I could donate some miles.  It was pretty easy.  Just log into your US Airways account (I'm sure all airlines have similar programs) and then you can choose how many miles you want to donate and to whom.  Though all the organizations seemed absolutely worthy, I chose to donate some of my miles to Fisher House.  
     There are so many different ways we can all support our troops.  I was glad to discover (and act upon) yet another way.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Never Too Much Peanut Butter

     Today was my day to send another care package to my adopted soldier in Afghanistan.  Just a little over 2 months until he comes home (he's from Kentucky), and I'm sure he's counting the days.  I know that he really loves peanut butter and claims that you can never have too much of it, so I keep sending him jars!  I also sent him some powdered drink mixes and a variety of snacks to enjoy.  
     While I don't have any penetrating insights to share, as I've sent him multiple packages throughout the year, I continue to enjoy supporting him and I know how much it means to our troops to receive packages from home.  Whether you've adopted a soldier or not, you can still send a package to a unit.  There are a number of different websites that facilitate doing this, Soldiers' Angels being just one of them.

Friday, August 3, 2012

What If No One Knew?

     I wrote yesterday about going to Target to buy a ton of school supplies for our Rotary "Pack to School" project.  Not surprisingly, while I was there, I picked up a few small items that I needed for myself as well.  Among those was a package of Uniball pens.  Last night, as I was looking over the receipt, I noticed that it didn't appear I had been charged for the pens.  I suppose this could easily happen because I actually purchased 47 separate barcoded items.  In her haste, the cashier must have accidentally neglected to scan the pens.  The incident created a decision point, as well as some interesting observations.
     I decided that the "right" thing would be to go back to Target today, show them the package and the receipt, and then pay for them as I would have yesterday absent the cashier's error.  Of course, had I not done so, no one would have been any wiser.  Target would never figure out what happened, my friends and family wouldn't know, the schoolchildren certainly wouldn't know -- in fact, only I would know.  The man working the customer service area at Target thanked me for paying for the item, but more importantly, of course, I felt better.
     While we all like to think of ourselves as impeccably honest, it seems to me that the issue is far more complicated than that.  For example, where are the boundaries around when most of us would return the item?  What if it was only a $.15 item?  What if I had to drive 30 miles to return it?  Should I incur additional expense (the cost of gas would certainly exceed $.15) simply because they made an error?  What if I didn't notice the error until 3 months from now? The answers aren't as simple and obvious as we'd like to think.  And I certainly don't claim to have the answers.  Interesting to ponder . . . 
     It also got me thinking about why I felt better going back to pay for the pens.  It seems to me that we all probably have an internal gyroscope that points us in the direction of what we believe is the "right" thing to do.  While our gyroscopes may not all be identical, and their ethical settings are likely heavily influenced by our upbringings, our religious beliefs, and our social mores, I think we all feel better when we act in a way that is consistent with our belief system.  I suppose that's one definition of integrity - acting in a way that's consistent with our beliefs.  When we don't act in this way, something inside of us usually feels "off."  I could probably go on for at least several pages   more on this thought alone, but I'll leave it as an opening for your own thoughts and an invitation to join me in the conversation.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Pack to School

     For the past bunch of years, the Rotary Cub to which I belong has done a community service project where we buy backpacks for schoolchildren whose families might have difficulty affording them and we fill the backpacks with all the supplies necessary to start school.  Each Rotarian is typically given 2 backpacks to fill, each with the age and gender of a specific child so that we purchase supplies that are appropriate for the person.  With more than 100 packs each year, the program has been a big hit and makes a real difference for an awful lot of families.
     Well, this was the week that packs were distributed to our membership; and to be totally honest, nearly all of us (we're mostly men) simply give the packs to our wives who then go out and take care of filling them.  And to be even more honest, that's what I've done every year - until now.  Today I decided it was time for me to play a more active role in this process and to take care of it all myself.
     I was given an 8 year-old girl and a 10 year-old boy.  On our school district's website, there are lists posted by grade showing the supplies that teachers recommend children come to school with on the first day.  I printed the lists for 3rd and 5th grade students, and armed with my lists, headed off to Target.  As every mother probably knows, and as I soon discovered, Target has a HUGE back-to-school section with everything one could possibly need for students from kindergarten to college.  I bought pens, pencils, rulers, erasers, highlighters, glue sticks, index cards, spiral notebooks, pocket folders, book covers, pencil cases, post-it notes, and a looseleaf - to name just some of the items!
     When I got home with all my packages, I separated them by student and then stuffed the backpacks.  I'll drop them off tomorrow at our designated dropoff spot.  It was actually fun to do, and I'm glad I did it myself this time rather than pawning it off to my wife.  It certainly gave me a greater sense of purpose and meaning, knowing that my efforts were going to have a very direct impact on a local family.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

More Help for a Friend

     Over the past few months, off and on, I've been helping a friend work on fine-tuning his marketing message for the purpose of developing a more useful website.  The process has involved lots of meetings and discussions as we continue to refine our collective thinking and better articulate the message.  Today we had a breakthrough of sorts.
     Early this afternoon my friend forwarded me an e-mail with some thoughts generated by another person and asking for my reaction.  When I replied with my response, I offered to get together to discuss in greater detail and try to hash out more of this work in person.  Since we both had some time this afternoon, we took advantage of the opportunity and got some great work done.  It was fun to use each other's talents to develop and polish our ideas.  I always enjoy that type of collaborative effort.
     This particular friend is someone who does so much for so many other people, that it's a double pleasure to be able to offer my help to him.  I find it rewarding to use my talents to benefit others.