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

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Another Ride

     Today I did another of my Road to Recovery Rides for the American Cancer Society.  I was actually driving a patient for whom I've already driven, so the routine was familiar.  While on the way to his treatment we began with the typical small talk about the storm, somehow we ended up talking more about his cancer and the doctor's prognosis that he has about a 15% chance of surviving for 5 years.  He wasn't resigned to this being a certainty, but it definitely affected his outlook on life.  
     After his treatment was over, we got on the topic of books and movies.  He is remarkably well read and he knows every movie ever made!  I think he was disappointed when we reached his home as he could have talked forever.  I had the feeling that having someone to talk with and someone who will listen was just as important as having someone to drive him.  I suppose that's often the case for many people, particularly as they get older.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Writing to Kigonya

     Awhile ago I wrote about my decision to sponsor a child in Uganda through Compassion International.  My child's name is Kigonya John, and he's 8 years old.  I recently received a letter from him (they translate our letters for each other), along with a few pictures that he drew.  It's hard to fathom just how different his life is from that of an 8 year old growing up in the US.  Tonight I wrote back to him, answering his questions, telling him more about us, and also sharing a picture of my family.
     In some ways, it seems a strange juxtaposition that I have 2 very different pen pals.  One was a 25 year old US soldier in Afghanistan who is now home and will soon be visiting me.  The other is this 8 year old Ugandan boy living in a tiny, remote village in Africa.  I wonder if I'll someday have the chance to meet Kigonya, much like my son Ben met his sponsored child in Rwanda last year (see his blogpost about that here).

Monday, October 29, 2012

Restricted by Sandy

     As virtually everyone knows by now, nearly the entire east coast has been battered by the hurricane/tropical storm Sandy for the past 24 hours and it's still going on as I write this.  Thankfully we've been totally safe and still have our power, unlike so many others.  Needless to say, it was a day spent inside, though at least it was with good friends.  With little to no chance to interact with the outside world other than through the internet, it seemed like a good day to send a book to someone.
     The other night I was with a fellow business person and I was telling him about a book that I thought he'd enjoy and get some value from.  As is typically the case, we sometimes intend to read books we hear about but then don't get around to picking them up.  Today I decided to send this person the book I had recommended to him.  Thankfully, Amazon makes this easier than ever.  He should have it by next week and I'm sure he'll appreciate its wisdom.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Kindness and Cruelty

     A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post that I called "Kindness or Cruelty?".  It was about inviting a friend to join me for an Eagles home game.  Since we're both big Eagles' fans, and the team lost a heartbreaker, it's hard to say whether I was doing my friend a kindness or providing him with cruelty.  I call today's post "Kindness and Cruelty" for somewhat similar reasons.
     I invited a good friend from Atlanta (and his wife) up for the weekend for us to enjoy the time together and for he and I to go to the Eagles' game against the Falcons.  It was definitely a kindness for him as he got to enjoy seeing his hometown team dominate the pathetic Eagles.  For me, it was cruelty, as the Eagles sink further and further into the dumps.
     To be truthful, it didn't actually bother me as much as it normally does when they play this poorly.  This is partly because my expectations are so much lower, but also because I was able to enjoy spending time with a good friend.  Obviously, that's ultimately what it's about so much more than who wins and loses.  

Saturday, October 27, 2012

More Free Rice

     Today was a busy (and fun) day spent with visiting friends from Atlanta and enjoying watching Alabama football in the evening.  It wasn't until late that I got the chance to at least go to to answer questions and donate some food to developing nations.  For those who many not know, this is a website where you can test your knowledge of math, vocabulary, geography and other subjects and for each answer you give correctly 10 grains of rice are donated to the United Nations World Food Program.  It's a pretty easy way that anyone can help out - even if you don't have much time (like me tonight)!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Providing Some Feedback

     From time to time I find myself in a situation where I notice something exceptional about someone but fail to mention it to them or acknowledge my observation.  I'm not sure why that is except that perhaps it can feel awkward, depending on how well I know them.  Today, I was with someone who I felt like I wanted to acknowledge, but didn't have the opportunity to do so in a personal way.  When I got home, though, I took the time to send this person an e-mail with what I had wanted to say, and I did so with a good amount of detail.
     This is an area in which I'd like to improve.  As I think about that, it occurs to me that there are really two parts to that improvement.  One part is tuning up my awareness so that I'm better at noticing opportunities to provide meaningful feedback or acknowledgment.  The other part is acting on it.  I'll work on those.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Still Writing

     I heard from my adopted soldier just yesterday that he was headed to the Philly airport (from Ft. Dix) where he and others in his unit would each be catching flights to their respective homes.  His tour of duty is now over and he'll be a civilian once again.  In fact, he's getting married this December.  While the commitment I entered into when I signed up through the Soldiers' Angels website to adopt a soldier, was that I would write once each week (and send a care package once each month) until the end of the soldier's overseas tour, I see no reason to stop writing completely, so I sent another letter (e-mail) tonight.
     I've mentioned before that we've become good friends over this past year of correspondence and I'll soon be meeting him personally (when he comes to the Eagles' game with me in 2 weeks).  I've thoroughly enjoyed getting to know him and expect our friendship to only continue to grow.  Of course he's thankfully again surrounded by family and friends and is no longer far from home and in harm's way.  Nevertheless, beyond the original "need", I find that good friendships add such a rich and wonderful dimension to our lives.  I feel enriched by knowing him and hope that he has benefitted from me as well.  I look forward to seeing that continue to grow.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Helping A Fellow Traveler

     I'm making my way home from Atlanta as I write this, sitting in the airport while my "standby" flight is delayed due to mechanical difficulties, hoping my "regular" flight isn't similarly delayed.  After I went through security and boarded the underground train that takes passengers to the various terminals, a woman asked me where she could pick up a shuttle bus to local hotels.  She was actually heading in the wrong direction!  Thankfully I've been here enough to know my way around pretty well and I was able to explain to her how to get to her destination.  I double-checked with her twice to make sure she understand my instructions before I left her to go on her way.  Had I known my flight would be delayed (meaning I had more time), I would have actually accompanied her to be sure she got to the right place.
     Interestingly, in the gate area for the delayed flight, many people were understandably concerned about missing connections.  The gate agents were working hard to accommodate everyone and they were even requesting people who were seated in the front of the plane whose final destination was Philly, to switch seats with people in the back of the plane who had connections so that they could more quickly get off the plane to rush to their next gates.  It was great to see how many people were volunteering to do so.  Further evidence that people are nicer than is commonly reported.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Presenting a Seminar

     I was in Atlanta today presenting a seminar for the clients of a friend of mine.  My friend runs an employee benefits organization that's been (and continues to be) tremendously successful.  For many years,  I've been a friend, coach, and mentor to him in the building of his operation and I'm proud to see how much he's accomplished.  Among the many things they do for their clients, the firm holds several seminars each year to expose clients to new ideas and the latest thinking on a variety of relevant topics.  My friend asked if I'd be willing to come down and present a program to his clients.  Of course, I agreed.
     The program was an offshoot of the CEO workshops I conduct on building a high performance culture.  While I would typically charge a fair amount for these types of talks, I did this one "gratis" (well, to be fair, there was some golf thrown in there too!).  In any case, it was a pleasure to be able to use my knowledge and skills to continue to benefit my friend, his organization, and their clients.  If I inspired even just a few more companies and gave them new tools to help them build first-rate, high performance cultures, then the time I gave was well worth it.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Making That Connection

     I was back on the road again today - this time to Atlanta.  I feel like I've been in airports almost every day lately.  The thing I've noticed most about traveling is the way in which, by necessity, large numbers of people need to be moved as efficiently as possible.  From what I hear from those who travel abroad, I get the sense that we do it as efficiently as anywhere here in the US.  One of the casualties of that efficiency, however, is that we can lose much of the personal touch - the human connection.  Today I tried to focus on that as much as I could.
     The simplest way to do that is to pay attention to, and then use, people's names.  Most people, whether they be ticket agents, TSA agents, or even food vendors seem to be wearing a name tag of some sort.  It only takes an extra instant to read their name and then to use it in addressing them.  They always seem to be surprised (and pleased) when I do so.  Another thing I did today was to look for individual things about people about which I could begin a conversation.  For example, the TSA agent checking my ID and boarding pass had on an unusual watch.  I asked him about it.  When I see a person with an unusual name, I ask them about its origin.  The driver who picked me up at the airport was from Bulgaria, I learned.  This gave me a chance to ask lots about how and why he came here and to show a genuine interest in his life story, not simply treat him as a driver.
     It's my supposition that most people crave some kind of individualized attention, even more so than ever before because we live in a society that values transactional efficiency.  Sometimes the kindest thing we can do is simply to recognize and take a genuine interest in another person as a unique individual.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Get Me to the Church On Time

     I went to the First Baptist Church of Tuscaloosa with Ben this morning.  For most people, that wouldn't be a big deal.  For me, it's a little different.  Without going into the long version of the story here, let me just say that I was raised Jewish and that until college, Ben professed to no religion.  However, in his freshman year he became a Christian and his faith now is a central part of his life.  
     While he and I remain very close, I don't share his spiritual faith.  Nonetheless, I support him 100% in pursuing what he believes.  Part of that support is taking a genuine interest in what he's doing and, on occasion (like when I'm visiting him), going to church with him.  
     Over the past couple of years I've come to more fully understand and appreciate that supporting our children doesn't mean supporting them only when they do things we agree with or when they make the same decisions we would make or we'd want them to make.  It means encouraging them to follow their own path with passion - wherever that may lead them (assuming it's not dangerous or harmful, of course!).  

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Some Random Help

     As Ben and I were returning from dinner tonight and bringing me back to my hotel in Tuscaloosa, we were about to walk inside when when we saw three women transferring a load of what appeared to be leftover food and dishes from a cart to their cars.  My guess is that they had celebrated some type of event - perhaps a baby shower, a birthday, or maybe even a wedding rehearsal dinner.  Anyway, they had to make many trips to get their items from the cart to their cars.  Seeing this, I jumped in and offered to help.  It only took a few minutes, but I was able to carry a number of items for them to make the process faster and easier.
     After I was done and we headed inside the hotel and up to my room, I noted to Ben that this is the kind of small thing that I would never have done prior to this year.  I didn't know the people and they didn't ask for my help.  It certainly wouldn't have been rude or inappropriate to simply walk past them, minding my own business.  But I'm always on the lookout for these opportunities this year.  And of course, that's part of why I set up this challenge for myself almost 10 months ago.  By forcing myself to find something kind to do each day, it makes me notice (and act upon) opportunities I simply wouldn't have noticed in the past.  And that's a good thing . . . 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Baggage Claim

     I was traveling today from Asheville, NC to Birmingham, AL (heading to visit my son Ben!), when I ran into a few difficulties.  As we landed in Charlotte (my transfer point), we sat on the tarmac for close to an hour waiting for a gate to open up.  Though I was barely able to make my connecting flight to Birmingham, apparently my bag was not, so when I arrived in Birmingham my bag didn't show up on the baggage claim belt.
     I waited patiently on line at the US Air baggage claim office and eventually learned that my bag was on the next flight out of Charlotte which was to arrive in another 30 minutes, so I obviously decided to wait around for it rather than have it delivered to my hotel in Tuscaloosa.  As I was waiting, the woman who was at the baggage office counter noticed that there were roughly 15-20 unclaimed bags (for some reason) still sitting on the belt.  She needed to move them all to her office where they would eventually be claimed.  As tired (and to be honest, annoyed) as I was, I went over and helped her move all those bags.  Working together, it didn't take long for us to get the job done.
     Obviously it wasn't up to me to help her do her job, but that's so often the essence of kindness - thinking more about others than ourselves.  There are so many opportunities when traveling to be frustrated and annoyed, especially when we're tired.  While it's always easier for me to say than to do, I find that if I can focus on finding someone to help, it reduces my own personal sense of frustration a bit.  

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Revisiting Jeffrey

     Back in the spring, I wrote about an encounter I had with a wonderful man named Jeff who worked as a restroom attendant in the Charlotte airport.  He was one of the most enthusiastic people I had ever met and I spent some time chatting with him and getting to know him.  While I was flying through Charlotte today, I had the good fortune of seeing him again!
     Not surprisingly, he was just as enthusiastic (since that's just how he "does life.").  I spent some more time getting to know him and got his phone number and permission to call him for a deeper interview.  I'm fascinated by people like Jeff and want to learn more about what makes him tick.  I gave him a ridiculous tip, thanked him, and promised that I would call him later next week.
     I'm beginning to see people like Jeff in various places in my travels and am interested in learning more about them.  In fact, when I was leaving Philadelphia,, there was a TSA woman who was unreal.  She was funny, enthusiastic, high-energy, and she was entertaining the crowd waiting in the endless security lines.  She clearly had the same "something" that Jeff had.  Unfortunately, I didn't have time to talk with her as I needed to get through security quickly to catch my flight.  Hopefully, I can find her another time and interview her as well.
     People like Jeff and the TSA woman I mention are inspiring examples of the power of the choice we each have regarding the attitude we have as we go through each day.  And I really do believe it's a simple choice that some make while most don't.  I'm curious to try to discover what causes some to understand and make that choice where others don't.  More to come on that topic as I learn more . . . 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Impact Through Education

     I attended a fascinating program this evening that was hosted by a friend of mine at our local Middle School.  The program was presented by the two founders of a school in a rural Maasai village in Tanzania.  If you're interested in checking it out, here's their website:  They're working with people who live in extreme poverty and providing a way for children to get a strong HS education in an environment in which few have any education at all.  Most importantly, they're helping these children to develop the knowledge, skills, and character to be able to change their futures and those of their families and communities.  Rather than trying to change the world itself, they're  giving kids the tools to change their own worlds.  Tonight we made a contribution to assist in this important work.
     Hearing about the way these villagers live and how little hope most of them have to create better futures is candidly hard to fathom.  I don't say that as if to suggest that I doubt it in any way.  Rather, I say it from the perspective that their existence differs from my own so starkly that it's virtually impossible to grasp.  It harkens me back to the comment I made several days ago about being incredibly lucky to be born into the circumstances that I was.  There's not much but luck that separates my birth and the opportunities I have from people across the globe who live with such limited opportunity.  It also raises important questions, albeit ones that are difficult to answer, about what my responsibility is to help those less fortunate and just how much I should sacrifice to that end.
     I have often debated in my own mind the relative value of a rich person donating millions of dollars to a cause vs. a person of lesser means donating a hundred dollars.  From the perspective of sacrifice, the rich person may have made no sacrifice whatsoever to their lifestyle while the poorer person may have made a much greater sacrifice.  And yet, there's no denying that in terms of the amount that can be accomplished, the rich person's millions can obviously have far greater impact than the poor person's hundred dollars.  I have no "conclusion" to this thought; it's just something I often ponder as I think about the appropriate amount to give to any particular cause.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A Surprise Gift

     A woman with whom I occasionally interact through some of my work has been out of the office the past few weeks in anticipation of delivering her first baby.  Knowing the baby was due last week, I checked with her company and learned that she had a healthy baby boy!  I was able to get her home address and this evening I went out to select some baby books to send her along with a congratulations card.  OK, full disclosure here - my wife helped me pick out the books since she's an absolute expert on baby gifts!  Anyway, I know the gift will be a real surprise to her, and one that she will very much appreciate.  I boxed it all up tonight and will have it in tomorrow's mail.
     I always think mailing gifts is fun, particularly when the recipient would have no expectation that you would do so (not a family member or real close personal friend).  The unexpected nature of it makes it that much more special.  I find that doing things like this requires two things:  1) you have to pay attention enough to be aware of people's birthdays, graduations, births, and other special occasions; and 2) you have to make the effort to recognize the event.  Ultimately, it's just another way of saying that you care about the other person.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Another Ride

     This afternoon I did another one of my "cancer rides."  This is what I call the times that I volunteer, through the American Cancer Society's Road to Recovery Program, to help a cancer patient by getting them to and from their doctor's appointment.  As is usually the case, I'm given the patient's name, phone number, address, and the time and place of the appointment.  I then call the patient to let him/her know who I am and to arrange the details.  
     Today, I picked up an elderly gentleman who was in the second week of a 4-6 week daily regimen of radiation.  Even for those who have strong family support, arranging for daily rides for 6 weeks can be daunting.  That's why this program is so vital for people.  Anyway, he was quite talkative and I learned all about his family, the work he did before retirement, his military service, and how he came to buy his 130-year old house - and this was just on the ride to the appointment!  I enjoyed his company though, and I know how much he appreciated the assistance.  I'm actually scheduled to drive him four more times over the coming weeks, so I'll have a further chance to get to know him better.  
     While I try to use this blog for my own reflections and not to solicit action on any one else's part, I will say that this is a truly important program and if you can spare a little time during your week, I'd encourage you to call your local chapter of the American Cancer Society and ask about volunteering for the Road to Recovery effort.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Kindness or Cruelty?

     Some 9 years ago or so, when the Philadelphia Eagles opened their new stadium, Lincoln Financial Field, I decided to buy season tickets.  I'd never had season tickets to anything growing up, and I thought going to games might be a nice tradition I could establish with my son Ben who was a young teen at the time.  For the next 6 years, it was just that - a great ritual we enjoyed together.  While I missed sharing those games with Ben when he went off to college, it did present me with the opportunity to invite friends who might rarely have an opportunity to attend a game live.  Today was one of those days.
     I titled this post "Kindness or Cruelty?" because it so often is a little of each!  The kindness part is that I got to enjoy catching up with an old friend and business associate that I rarely get to see more than once or twice each year.  I make sure to invite him to a game each year since he's a big Eagles' fan and probably wouldn't get to go otherwise.  We always enjoy our time together talking about sports, our families, business, and life.  And today was no exception.
     The cruelty part is that watching an Eagles' game is never easy.  As any longtime fan knows, they have a way of teasing you with the possibility of greatness and then replacing your excitement with utter despair and disappointment as they find a way to lose yet another game that was virtually "in the bag."  This has been going on for some time, and never seems to change.  And each time we come back for more, hoping the result will somehow be different.  
     So while my gesture to invite my friend and spend quality time with him was one of genuine kindness, the result may have ultimately felt more like cruelty!  And we'll do it again next year . . . 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Autumn in Moorestown

     Today was a traditional celebration we have each year in my hometown, called Autumn in Moorestown.  Main Street is closed to all traffic and tons of street vendors - artists, craftspeople, and others set up booths in the street and display their wares for sale.  There's music, food, and even scarecrow-making. The weather was perfect and there were thousands of people packing the street.  Seeing how much work goes into the setup and anticipating how much goes into the breaking down, I had an idea about how I could help.
     When the event was closing down, around 4:00, I headed back up to Main Street to see who might need help.  I approached a couple of different vendors but they said they were "fine."  Then I saw some people folding up chairs and tables.  I jumped in and spent the next 40 minutes or so folding up more than 100 chairs and helping to load them into a truck, and then did the same for a bunch of long tables.  When that job was completed, I saw a couple trying to fold up there tent and get it stuffed back into its bag.  I lent a hand and we got it done.  Then I quietly headed home.
     It was interesting to note how many people walked by without offering to help.  I'm sure they assumed, as would I, that "someone" was taking care of all the cleanup.  In reality, it was a lot of volunteers.  Prior to this year, it wouldn't have even occurred to me to go back, unsolicited, to help out.  Now I notice these opportunities much more readily.  

Friday, October 12, 2012

A Sounding Board

     I caught up with a friend/business associate over lunch today.  I hadn't seen him in some time and so I had reached out to him several weeks ago to set up the lunch.  It was great to see him and to catch up on each other's lives and work.  During the course of the conversation, he shared with me some of the challenges he's trying to think through.  I was able to help him to "re-frame" how he was looking at things and to consider things from an entirely new and useful perspective. He appreciated the insights and I offered to continue to be a sounding board for him as he continues to think through some of these issues.
     For whatever reason, I seem to have an ability to organize information and crystalize ideas in a way that makes it easier for people to understand and to use.  I love using that talent/skill to help people like I did today.  It's exciting to see their eyes light up as they come to a realization that had never occurred to them quite that way before.  Given that I'm completely useless when it comes to doing things with my hands or fixing things, it's rewarding that I can at least use my brain to benefit others.
     I suppose it's a reminder to me that every person has some unique gifts and talents, and that we're typically most satisfied and fulfilled when we use those gifts in service to others.  It's also a reminder that our unique gifts are often right under our noses, despite our sometimes desperate search to discover them.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Feeling Even Luckier

     If you ever want to feel really lucky. take a minute and read some of the stories on Post Pals.  This is a site, based in the UK, on which you can become a pen pal or simply send a note or gift to a very sick child.  Tonight I read the story of a 9 year old boy named Adam who has been fighting a rare, but devastating form of cancer for several years.  The details of his story are written by his mother, and it's simply hard to imagine how this boy and his family have managed to deal with the stresses, hardships, challenges, and heartaches that the disease has wrought.  Tonight I sent Adam a personal note letting him know he had a friend and supporter in NJ.  
     I can't even fathom how hard it must be for Adam and his family.  I marvel at the inner strength some people seem to be able to muster when faced with such daunting health issues.  I'm sure they have many moments when they just want to give up.  And yet somehow they persevere and keep going at it.  Hopefully knowing that people, even strangers, are thinking about them and rooting for them can make a small difference.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Passengers Helping Each Other

     As I write this, I just got home from Chicago after a long flight delay due to some unknown mechanical issues with the plane's computer system. (I'll keep this pretty short so I can get to bed!).  After I took my seat on the plane, a woman who was seated several rows in front of me came down the aisle looking for a place to put her carry-on luggage.  There was an open overhead bin across from my aisle but I could see that her bag was pretty heavy and difficult for her to handle, so I offered my assistance and got the bag stowed for her.  Knowing that she was going to face the same issue when we landed (and worse, she'd have to go against the "flow of traffic" to get back to her bag), I was quick to retrieve it and bring it to her when we landed.
     In my travels, I notice that more often than not, many passengers will go out of their way to assist other passengers.  I think that when we're traveling, people have an increased sense of community in that we're all going through a shared experience.  I suspect this causes people to be more helpful to each other than you might normally see.  That's my read on it anyway.  Regardless of its cause, it's of course great to see and is a further reminder that people really are generally good.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Feeling Lucky?

     This evening I was looking on the Wish Upon A Hero website and was struck by the many, many people who are struggling to make ends meet and are in need of small favors to help keep them afloat in difficult times.  I read the story of a husband and wife with 4 children who are living in a hotel right now and have exhausted various government programs that might help to keep them from becoming homeless.  Though the husband works, he only gets paid on the days in which there is work to be done, and this is not always consistent.  They're looking for help paying for tonight's room.  I took care of it.
     It's impossible to read most of these stories and not feel for the difficult predicament so many are in.  It's equally impossible to read them and not feel a greater sense of thankfulness for the good fortune that I and most of my friends and family enjoy.  Sure I've worked hard and used my talents to be successful, but I also had an awful lot of luck.
     For those who don't think of themselves as lucky, we need only consider the staggering odds that we would be born into the circumstances that we were.  Of the several billion people in the world, there was nothing but good luck that caused me to be born in the US, in a great family, healthy, and with strong talents versus being born in an impoverished third world nation with little hope to ever go beyond bare subsistence living.  I was born into opportunities that a tiny fraction of 1/100th of 1% of the world's population will ever know.  I'd call that pretty darn lucky. 
     If you're ever feeling unlucky, take a moment and go to the Wish Upon A Hero site and read some of those stories.  Better yet, share some of your good fortune and grant somebody's wish.

Keeping the Letters Going

     I was tied up most of today and didn't have as many opportunities as I sometimes do to spread some extra kindness.  However, I did have a chance this evening to send another note to my soldier in Afghanistan.  He is anxiously awaiting formal orders to depart (literally any day) and begin his journey home.  I can only imagine how difficult that is to wait around, not knowing exactly when you'll be leaving.  I suppose that's the way the army works, though.  In any case, he still has access to the internet, and so we still have the ability to write to each other.  Just about 4 1/2 weeks till he visits me in NJ.  Until then, I'll keep on writing . . . 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

A Late Night Drive

     Last night as I was getting ready for bed, preparing to rise at 4 am for a long run before heading to the airport on a trip, the phone rang.  It was a neighbor calling to ask a favor.  It seems they had driven their family to a South Jersey venue for a function and their car battery went dead.  Though they had called AAA for assistance, they needed to make it home to drop off a friend of their daughter's.  "Could you possibly come pick them up?", they wondered.  Though I sure could have used the sleep, I was on my way in a matter of minutes.
     People talk about how "in the old days" neighbors were always there for each other.  I'm not one to think that the old days were always better.  I suspect that many neighbors are just as willing to help today as they were in the past - if we're willing to ask.  I'm glad my neighbors felt comfortable enough to call me.  And I wasn't hesitant to step up and deliver for them.  I'm sure they'd do the same for me.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

If We Each Do A Little

     When I was out running a few errands this afternoon, I was in a shopping center parking lot and I noticed a few shopping carts that had not been returned to the place where they're kept (what do you call that thing anyway??).  Since it was a windy day and they could easily bang into parked cars, I went over and returned them to a safer place.  While doing so, I also noticed some discarded cups from soft drinks that had been left there, so I picked those up and threw them out.  
     When I got back into my car I was thinking about a couple of things.  First, while I "shouldn't" have had to take care of someone else's responsibility (whoever left the items originally), I did.  I think the concept of "should" or "shouldn't" often just allows excuses for not taking action.  Whether I should or shouldn't have to do it really doesn't matter.  It was there, I saw it, it needed to be taken care, so I handled it.
     It also occurred to me that if everyone just did a few little things like that without considering whose fault it is or whose responsibility it is, we'd have a lot cleaner and nicer environment.  It's so easy to just assume that someone else will do it, when we can easily pick something up ourselves.  
     I also have to admit that if I wasn't always on the lookout for these things (because of my kindness initiative), I probably wouldn't even have noticed the cart or the garbage.  But that's also part of why I took on this project - to develop new habits and train myself to notice and capitalize on opportunities to be kind or helpful.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Another Loan

     This evening I got a notice from Kiva, the organization I've been using to participate in microloans around the world.  The notice gave me the details of the repayments that had been made on the loans I've previously made.  I was thrilled to see that all 5 of my loans are repaying on schedule.  When the money gets repaid, I can use that credit to reduce my outstanding position, or I can re-lend that money toward another loan.  That's, in fact, what I decided to do.
     I made a loan to a woman in the Philippines who is working hard to support her family of 7 children.  She has 2 jobs:  she has a general store and she also has a motorcycle transport business.  For her transport business, she's borrowing money to buy spare parts.  She's trying to get $500 which she'll then pay back on a monthly basis.  I was happy to be a participant in that loan along with a number of other lenders.  
     Every time I go to the Kiva site I get excited.  It's such an amazingly simple way of aggregating small amounts of funds from lots of different generous people in order to make a meaningful difference in the lives of strangers in poor countries across the world.  These are people who are working hard to support themselves and their families and simply need a little assistance.  Assistance that will be repaid as well!  For as little as $25, any of us can help people to help themselves.  How great is that?!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Special Delivery

     When I got home late this afternoon from a talk I did in the Baltimore, MD area this morning, I got an e-mail from a woman I know who works for a large regional employer.  Her employer has been using my book, Fundamentally Different, as the main discussion text in a leadership development course they've been running for about 25-30 future leaders.  Well it seems that they just added 4 more people to the class and were desperate to get their hands on some additional copies of the book ASAP.  When the woman checked with Amazon, she found she couldn't get the books as quickly as she needed, so she reached out to me.
     Thankfully I keep a supply of books at my house.  Within an hour of receiving her e-mail, I personally delivered the copies to her so that she could get them in people's hands by tomorrow.  While I certainly had a few other things on my plate when I got home, she had an urgent need and I wanted to find a way to respond.
     While this could just as easily be filed under "customer service" as it could under "kindness", in some respects, they're one and the same.  At the heart of great customer service is a genuine desire to help other people.  It isn't so much about policies and procedures as much as it's about a personal commitment and passion to help.  And isn't that what kindess is all about as well?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


     The wife of a friend of mine took the Bar exam recently and has been eagerly awaiting the results.  Yesterday, my friend shared the great news that she passed with flying colors!  Figuring it might be nice for her to get a personal note of congratulations, I went out today and picked up a nice card, wrote out a meaningful note, and got it off in the mail to their home address.
     You just can't beat a personal, handwritten note for letting people know that you're thinking about them and that you care.  The fact that it's handwritten tells them that you took the time and effort to focus on them and share your thoughts.  In an age where many technologies can make the world feel impersonal, handwritten notes harken us back to a different time.  I'm not sure that will (or should!) ever be replaced.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Sharing a Little Wisdom

     I mentioned the other day that a friend asked me if I would be willing to meet with his fiance to share what I have learned about getting a book published.  She has recently completed a book and didn't know how to go about the next step.  Tonight I spent almost an hour with this person, helping her to get the "lay of the land" and helping her understand the various options and their corresponding advantages and disadvantages.  I believe, by her comments, that I made a big difference for her.
     It seems to me that, for many people, new topics often create a sense of chaos and confusion.  They can't seem to find a way to organize the huge array of available information in a way that's useful rather than overwhelming.  Thankfully, I find this to be one of my skills.  My brain tends automatically to seek organization and structure wherever chaos appears.  Somehow, I'm easily able to organize information in a way that is easy to explain, understand, and digest.  It's not at all difficult for me to do, which I suppose means that it's a "gift" or "talent" of mine.
     I often lament that I don't have certain tangible skills.  For example, I'm pretty useless when it comes to fixing things or building things.  I just don't seem to have any mechanical sense at all (thankfully my wife does!).  So if someone's car breaks down, or they need help putting up curtains, or they need to fix a toilet, I'm of absolutely no use.  On evenings like tonight, however, when I get to use my brainpower to help someone, it's nice to be reminded that I do have some skill.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Driving Mr. Daisy

     This morning I did another of my drives for the American Cancer Society's Road to Recovery program.  As is customarily the case, I was given the patient's name, address, and phone number, along with the details of his appointment time and place.  I was to pick him up this morning around 9:45 and bring him to an appointment at a hospital in Philadelphia.  After calling to confirm the time for pickup, I was on my way.
     Like most of the patients I've driven, he was particularly friendly and talkative, as well as being incredibly appreciative of me and the American Cancer Society.  He wasn't hesitant to tell me about his cancer and that this was the 25th of his 27 visits for radiation treatment.  I learned about how supportive his wife and 4 grown children have been and that I was the 5th or 6th volunteer driver he'd had, providing much needed relief for his daughter who has driven him to all the other appointments.  I learned all about his career before he retired, about all 4 of his children - where they live and their occupations, and about his 7 grandchildren.  And of course we talked about the Eagles!
     Not surprisingly, when we got to Philadelphia, he knew all the routines from the valet parking at the hospital to where people can get coffee in the waiting room.  I didn't have to wait long before he was done and we were on our way home.  
     This was about my 8th or 9th ride since I started in the spring, and it continues to be one of my favorite acts.  I enjoy meeting new people, and I can undoubtedly, and very directly, see the impact this program has on people's lives.  Without volunteers, though, the program simply wouldn't exist. It's definitely a great way to make a difference, as well as being a great reminder of the good fortune I have to be healthy!