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

Monday, December 16, 2013

Making New Loans

     I'm back again . . . I know it's been awhile since I've posted a kindness story.  I've been doing acts of kindness here and there, though not with the consistency (not that I intended to) that I had last year.  I've got some thoughts germinating for a 2014 project, so stay tuned for that.  In the meantime, here's a quick story from today.
     I've written before about one of my favorite sites, Kiva.  This is a site that facilitates making micro finance loans to borrowers all over the world.  For as little as $25, any of us can participate in a loan being made to a person, usually in a 3rd world country, who might not otherwise have access to capital.  Lending organizations on the ground actually make the loan, and Kiva serves as the intermediary to aggregate contributions from and repayments to tens of thousands of lenders like you and me.  It's truly an amazing site.
     This evening I participated in two new loans.  The first was for an 18 year old man in Palestine who has opened his own small store to do maintenance on electrical machines.  He's borrowing $1900 to buy tools for his work and he'll be repaying it over 28 months.
     My second loan was for a woman in Armenia who sells perfumes to local people to help support herself and her 2 children.  She's borrowing $750 to buy more stock to resell.  She'll be repaying the loan over 26 months.  
     I've now participated in 15 different loans.  Eight of those have been fully repaid and all the others are paying back on schedule.  In fact, the default rate on these loans is something far less than 1%!  How amazing is it that any of us can easily participate in helping people all across the world?!
     By the way, a great holiday gift to consider is to give someone a Kiva card.  Kiva will send them a notice of your gift and then the recipient goes on line and chooses a loan they want to help fund, using the money you contributed.  This gets others involved in making loans and making a true difference.  I did this for both my children last year.  Check it out.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Easy Traveling

     How often do people complain about traveling, especially about the airlines?  Well I've been traveling almost every week for the past year, and I have to say that most of the airline personnel I've seen are actually pretty good.  Of course, like any job, there are some bad ones who seem sullen or bored, as if they just don't care.  But I've encountered even more who really seem to want to do a great job.
     Yesterday, I got home from a trip to North and South Carolina.  My US Airways flight from Spartanburg boarded on time and without issue.  We took off slightly early and landed in Philly about 20 minutes ahead of schedule.  We didn't have to wait for a gate or any gate personnel to show up and we deplaned quickly.  As I walked through the terminal on my way to baggage claim, I made a 10 minute stop at the US Airways Club and had a snack and a soft drink.  By the time I got to baggage claim, my bag was already sitting on the belt waiting for me.  As is often my custom, I went over to the baggage claim office and reported that I had no issues at all and thanked the agent for seeing that my bags came quickly and easily.  The agent seemed quite surprised to have someone stop in just to report good news, but after she got over the shock she broke into a big smile and thanked me for letting her know.
     I continue to be reminded on a daily basis that I'll see in the world pretty much what I'm looking for.  If I look for examples of dishonesty, poor attitudes, lousy service, pain, and misery, I'll surely see them all around me.  But if I look for examples of decency, goodwill, kindness, good service, and helpfulness, I see them everywhere I look.  Given a choice (and we all have a choice), I'd rather look for the latter.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Donating Time and Expertise

     Yesterday I spent the morning conducting a 3-hour workshop for more than 30 local non-profit organizations, as part of a regional HR association event.  This was one of those requests that always seems less disruptive many months before the event.  In fact, I had agreed to do it more than 6 months ago, when nothing that far into the future could possibly be that big of a deal.  However, in a week in which I traveled across the country and back, and in which I was juggling many other (paying) client commitments, it wasn't my top choice for how to spend my first day back home.
     Nevertheless, I made it a point to block out all distractions and to simply be present to doing my best job in the moment.  The audience deserved nothing less than that.  
     When I got home later in the day, I was reflecting on two thoughts.  The first was the importance of the "abundance mentality" I wrote about one time last year.  By that I mean thinking of the world as an abundant place and thinking of my capacity to serve and to give to others as plentiful, rather than limited.  When I think from a perspective of limits or scarcity, I tend to want to more carefully dole out kindness.  However, when I see kindness as something I don't have to conserve or limit, I'm able to give more freely.
     The second thing I was reflecting on was one of the "Fundamentals" I used to teach in my former company.  It was called, "Practice A+ness as a way of life."  This Fundamental is about having intense pride in the quality of what I do and making sure that my work reflects the highest standard of which I'm capable.  On days when I'm tired, or less motivated, it's my passion for A+ness that pushes me to still deliver a high quality talk or to provide my very best thinking to a leader that I'm coaching or to a company for which I'm consulting.  While the audience might not perceive it as less than my best, I would know.  And that's really what A+ness is about -- a deeply personal commitment to excellence, even if no one were to know but me.  

Thursday, July 11, 2013

A Bruegger's Kindness Story

     I know it's been a few months since I last posted an update to this kindness blog.  For those wondering where I've been, the answer is:  pretty much everywhere!  Just in the past 3 months, I've done work in Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale, Kansas City, Dallas, Akron, Buffalo, Omaha, Philadelphia, NY City, Seattle, Miami, Washington DC, Chicago, Providence, Atlanta, and Phoenix, to name a few!  I've continued to practice acts of kindness, though haven't made it a priority to do so without missing a single day.  And obviously, I haven't written much.  However, something happened today that I thought was worth sharing, and hopefully it will get me writing again more frequently.
     I was in Phoenix for the past several days giving a couple of talks and visiting my sister and my parents.  Before leaving for home, I decided to get some of my favorite Bruegger's bagels to bring back to NJ. (We no longer have any Bruegger's anywhere near us and so I try to pick some up anytime I'm traveling to a city in which they still exist).  I called them this morning and ordered 2 dozen Honey Grain bagels to be picked up around 9:00, on my way to the airport.  
     Though I hadn't yet been to that particular shop, the directions were easy and the exit was literally right on my way.  Somehow though, I must have been daydreaming and completely missed the exit.  Before I knew it, I was arriving at the car rental return for the airport, and I didn't have time to go back and find the Bruegger's and still make my flight.  While disappointed about the bagels, my bigger quandary was feeling bad about having placed an order and then "stiffing" the store.  After a few minutes of thought, I decided that I should call the store and give them my credit card and tell them to charge me for the bagels anyway.  But the story doesn't end there.
     When I called, they put me through to the catering manager, a woman named Felicia.  Upon hearing the situation, Felicia asked me what time my flight was.  Then she suggested that she could drive the bagels to the airport and meet me in front of the terminal from which I was departing!  Sure enough, that's what she did.  I'm actually writing this post on the flight, and looking forward to having plenty of great bagels to enjoy over the coming weeks!
     As I reflect on what took place, I have a few observations.  First, I was thinking about integrity.  I sometimes think of integrity as doing the "right" thing, even when no one's looking.  No one (except for me) would have ever known if I never paid for the bagels I ordered.  They didn't even have my last name, and I could perhaps justify it by assuming that the bagels would eventually be sold throughout the day.  Still, it didn't feel right.  Integrity, I think, is most often a very personal thing.
     The other interesting observation was how my kindness (doing the right thing) was so readily reciprocated.  I certainly had no expectation at all that the bagels would be delivered to me at the airport.  In fact, it hadn't even occurred to me as an option.  But as I observed throughout the past year, kindness is contagious.  It's pretty cool to see.
     I'll try to be more regular in my writing in the coming months, despite my continued crazy travel schedule.  

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Some Thoughts on Boston

     I've been traveling extensively lately and have not taken the time to post stories with the regularity I had hoped (a luxury I'm granting myself after "officially" completing my challenge on the last day of 2012!).  However, the events surrounding Monday's tragic bombing at the Boston Marathon have really compelled me to reflect and I wanted to share some of those thoughts here.
     When I wrote my year-end summary on January 1st, I listed five key lessons I learned from my year of kindness.  One of the most significant of these lessons was that there is much more kindness in the world than we think.  My experience was that the world was filled with amazing acts of kindness but that their stories were not told as frequently as were the stories of crime, evil, and tragedy.  The disproportionate amount of airtime that negative stories get can cause us to have a distorted view of how most people really are.  So how do I make sense of this week's events in light of my observation about human nature?
     For me, the aftermath of the marathon was, and continues to be, a shining example of exactly what I had concluded.  While many will point to this senseless tragedy and wonder what's wrong with our world, I am as heartened by the incredible stories of compassion in the bomb's aftermath as I am heartbroken by the tragedy itself.
     For a variety of reasons, this event impacted me in a more personal way than many of the horrible things you see or read about in the news.  It might be because of my role as a part of the running community, and a previous Boston marathon competitor myself, or maybe because I had friends who were there, but it really hit me hard.  I was returning to my hotel in Florida, listening to the details on the news, and I literally sat in the parking lot and wept.  (This is pretty rare for me).  
     And yet, within hours I was hearing so many stories of caring and compassion shown by emergency workers, healthcare professionals, race officials, fellow athletes, spectators, local residents, and more.  There was an overwhelming display of generosity on the part of so many people, eager to do whatever they could to assist and care for those in need.  While I don't have the words to describe or understand why some crazy individual would hurt so many innocent people, it was likely one person (it now appears).  Balance that against the thousands and thousands of people in Boston and around the country who are showing solidarity in their kindness, and it only reaffirms for me the notion that there is far more kindness in the world than we often recognize.  
     Beyond the exceptional events that follow tragedies like this week, I continue to see lots of examples of kindness that people all around me show to each other every single day.  It's all around us, if we're looking for it.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Helping Travelers

     I was coming home from Orlando yesterday and as I navigated my way through the Orlando airport I overheard a young family trying to figure out how to get to the gate from which their plane was departing.  Since I knew the answer to their question, I spoke up and explained the directions to them.
     This is one of those very simple things that I might have ignored in the past.  While it's true that I overheard their conversation, and it's also true that I knew the information about which they were confused, it would have been just as easy to stay inside my own little "bubble", rather than offering to help.  Since I tend to be a more cerebral person anyway, my natural inclination is to be on my own path, in my own world, and not to break outside of it for strangers.  In fact, this is one of the tendencies or habits I wanted to work on changing through the 369 consecutive days of kindness last year.  I wanted to learn to extend myself more, especially to strangers, and to find ways to spread more kindness.  Hopefully yesterday's small act was an indication that I'm making those changes.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Pretzels for the Workers

     Every Easter, the volunteer firefighters in our town sell spring flowers as a way of raising additional funds.  You can see them in front of the different firehouses, doing a brisk business if the weather is good.  As I was coming home from a kindness talk I gave to a Rotary club this afternoon, I passed the firehouse and saw the activity.  It reminded me that I had intended to swing by our soft pretzel store on Main Street and buy a bunch of warm pretzels for the workers, but by this point I was already past Main Street and on my way home.                 
     Nevertheless, I doubled back and returned to the pretzel store and bought 20 of pretzels, fresh out of the oven.  Then I parked a couple of blocks from the firehouse and went to deliver them.  Having lived in town as long as I have, I know many of the firefighters and was glad to greet them personally with my gift.
     Small tokens like these are a nice way to show some appreciation for the sacrifices these people make.  It's the least I can do.

Monday, March 25, 2013


     I've been a little remiss in my writing lately, so I'll try to get back on track here.  It was a rather wet, snowy, sleety kind of day in NJ today and I felt bad as I pulled into a gas station in town to fill up my car.  NJ is one of those few states where you can't pump your own gas, so an attendant had to stand out in the nasty weather filling people's cars for them.  That can't be much fun on a day like today.  Anyway, when I was done and the young man was handing me my receipt, I thanked him by giving him a McDonald's gift card.  He was really surprised and appreciative.
     Those who know me well, know that I hate tips.  It's not that I don't appreciate what people do.  Rather, it's that I hate the unknown aspect of tips. You never know what's expected, what's reasonable, what's cheap, etc.  I'd rather just be told what the price of an item is and have it include any and all service.  Or better yet, I'd love it if there were a clearly communicated scale that we all understood with appropriate amounts for poor, average, good, and outstanding service.  Then I could rate the service I received and compensate appropriately.
     As much as I hate the places where tips are "expected," I enjoy the opportunity to give a little something (like today) where it's not expected.  This gives me a better chance to really make a difference in someone's day.  I suspect that gas station attendant doesn't expect nor does he get many tips.  He likely went home tonight feeling pretty good, with an extra bounce in his step.  Not that the gift card was so huge, but simply knowing that he was valued and appreciated.
     My daughter is a tour guide on her college campus.  A couple of weeks ago she was given a $10 tip by someone who participated in one of her tours.  This was totally unexpected and so it had a significantly larger impact on her.  I don't doubt that she felt just a little bit better about life for the rest of that day.  That's pretty cool to be able to do that for someone.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Looking for a Restaurant

     I stopped by our local grocery store to pick up a couple of items, and as I got back into my car and prepared to start the engine, I noticed a man in the car next to me had his window rolled down and seemed to be motioning to me.  So I got back out of my car and went to see what he wanted.  It seems he was waiting for his wife to finish her shopping and, since he wasn't from this area, he was looking for a recommendation for a place to have a nice meal.  I asked him a few questions to get a sense for the kind of restaurant he wanted, and then was able to give him a good recommendation and pretty explicit directions for how to get there.
     Isn't it strange that we're so often hesitant to ask a question of a total stranger?  I'm not quite sure why that is, but for some reason, most of us tend to feel uncomfortable approaching a complete stranger.  I was glad that this man apparently had no such discomfort, because it allowed me to be of help, and perhaps at some level, it also allowed me to show that most strangers are more than willing to be plenty helpful, if we only ask.  It was fun for me to help, and he got what he was looking for.  

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Extra Step

     I was having dinner with someone the other night and our conversation led me to mention a couple of my favorite books on the topic we were discussing.  My friend hadn't read the books in question but wrote them down because he was eager to check them out.  I believe he was sincere in his desire to read them, though my experience tells me that life has a way of getting in the way of our best intentions.
     I also know from experience that I'm more likely to read a book that's been sent to me than one I don't currently own and have to go out and purchase/borrow.  So I went ahead and bought the books on Amazon (I do love Amazon) and had them sent to my friend for his enjoyment.  Taking that one extra step to send the books, rather than simply mentioning them, can make all the difference in the world.  
     That whole experience got me thinking about how often there's one little extra step that can make the difference in so many situations.  Do we tell someone how to do something or do we actually coach them through doing it?  Do we give someone directions or do we lead them to where they need to go?  To we utter a simple thanks or do we send a nice, handwritten note?  Do we say we should get together sometime, or do we pull out our calendars and make a date?  In almost every situation, it seems to me, there is always more that can be done to help.  It's an interesting challenge to consider that thought and to take on doing that "extra step."

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Saving Lives

     What can almost all of us do to literally help save lives?  Hint:  It's easy, painless, free, and doesn't take much time.  That's right - we can give blood.  I'm embarrassed to say that for many years I never gave blood.  And not for any good reason at all.  I simply didn't do it.  Then our office started holding blood drives every 8 weeks and I figured I really had no excuse for not helping out.  Since then, I try to give a minimum of 5 or 6 times each year, and I always feel good when I do.
     Today was one of those opportunities.  A month or so ago a friend sent me an invitation to donate at a blood drive being held at her church.  It was about time for me to give, so I signed up to participate in today's event.  From what I'm told, my blood type, O negative, is the kind that can be used by anyone so it's in particular demand.  Given that our bodies replace the lost blood pretty quickly, it's hard to think of a reason not to help in this way, for the vast majority of people who are able to.  I was glad to do my part today, and look forward to doing it again in another 8 weeks.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Some Help for a Friend

     A number of weeks ago, my wife and I happened to bump into a friend of mine as we went out to dinner.  As we briefly caught up with each other, he told me about some challenges he was having in his business and how much my book was helping him.  Upon hearing about some of those challenges, I offered that I'd be happy to provide some help over lunch one day, to which he readily agreed.
     When I got home that night, I was sure to follow up to make sure we got that lunch scheduled, not wanting my offer to be perceived as anything less than sincere.  Today we got together for that lunch.
     Over a couple of hours, I got to know this friend and his business much better, and was able to share some helpful advice on a variety of topics.  I was glad to be able to parlay my knowledge and experience into something that was helpful for a friend.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Rite of Spring

     I participated in an annual rite of spring (or perhaps late winter?) this morning.  It was time for the Moorestown Rotary Pancake Breakfast.  This is an event that's put on every year by the two Rotary clubs in our home town.  It's the only event each year in which the two clubs work jointly, and it's always a big success, raising thousands of dollars for a variety of local charities.
     As a long-time Rotarian, I enjoy working the event.  It gives me a chance to connect with lots of people who I don't often see throughout the year.  While setting out placemats or cleaning up tables or pouring coffee, I get to chat with many friends and neighbors.  It's definitely a real small town American kind of event.
     This event also always reminds me of the volunteer spirit that's alive and well in our town, and I suspect, in many similar towns all across the country.  There are dozens upon dozens of local organizations that depend on volunteer labor to fulfill their mission of serving the community.  I've been involved in many of these organizations over the years, as have so many of my friends and neighbors.  It's definitely an important part of what makes small towns great places to live.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Two More Loans

     Regular readers of this blog will know that I have many times written about one of my favorite sites,  Kiva is an organization that aggregates small amounts of money from thousands of people and facilitates the use of that money to make micro loans to hundreds of thousands of hard-working people in third world nations.  Through this site, I've already participated in 8 different loans, 2 of which have been repaid in full and the others are all being paid back right on schedule.  This evening, I used some of those repaid funds to make 2 new loans.
     My first loan was for a 38 year old farmer in Zambia.  This father of eight grows fruits and vegetables which he sells in a nearby market.  He wants to borrow money in order to buy a water pump which will enable him to expand his production and create a more predictable harvest since he'll be able to irrigate even in the dry seasons.  Believe it or not, right now he has to water his crops by literally carrying buckets of water to his fields.  The pump will make this process more efficient, allowing him to expand the area that he can farm.
     The other loan I made tonight was for a woman in Tajikistan.  This woman is trying to start a new business sewing and selling women's gowns and dresses.  She's completed a course in starting a business and is now raising the capital necessary to buy a sewing machine and fabrics.  My contribution will help her to raise that capital.  She'll be paying the loan back monthly over a period of 14 months.
     How cool is it that virtually all of us can make a material difference in the lives of people half way across the globe?  And these aren't people needing or looking for handouts.  They're hardworking, enterprising, people who just need small amounts of financing in order to start or to expand their businesses.  And by the way, the default rate on Kiva loans is a fraction of 1%!  I just love this organization and love participating in these loans.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Spreading Inspiration

     Today I had the opportunity both to inspire and to be inspired.  Let me explain further.
     Somewhat coincidentally, I had been scheduled to give two different talks about my kindness project today.  The first one was for a Rotary club in my hometown.  There were about 60 business and community leaders present, and I had the chance to explain what my project was about, tell some fun stories from my year of kindness, and then share some of my lessons learned.  A number of people came up to me afterwards, and some wrote to me as well, to let me know how my talk was inspiring to them and was motivating them to want to spread more kindness.  
     Later in the afternoon, I gave another similar talk to a group of students at a local high school.  While I'm told that I was an inspiring example to them as well, truth be told, I found the students themselves to be even more inspiring.
     The students are all part of a club based on a program called Rachel's Challenge.  Rachel Scott was the first student killed in the Columbine tragedy back in 1999.  Apparently, Rachel was a pretty amazing young woman who demonstrated kindness every day and who believed in the contagious power that kindness has to make a difference in our world.  In her memory and honor, and to keep her spirit and dream alive, Rachel's family created the concept of Rachel's Challenge.  It's a program to engage students, primarily at the high school level, in creating and spreading a culture of kindness in their schools and communities.  
     Hearing about the students' activities, and seeing their dedication and enthusiasm was inspiring to me.  It reminded me just how contagious this kindness thing can be.
     I was also reminded about this during a breakfast conversation with a friend this morning.  The friend is a subscriber to my blog and he told me today how reading my stories has increased his awareness of the opportunities for kindness that were all around him, and more importantly, how that greater awareness has translated into him doing acts of kindness that he likely wouldn't have done previously.  That's always great to hear.
     And one final kindness note for the day, I stopped on my way home today and picked up a nice bouquet of roses for my wife, just because.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Brother Can You Spare a Dime?

     I was coming home from a business trip to Florida today and as I was walking from the gate where my plane had arrived to the baggage claim area, a man stopped me to ask for help.  He told me that the train was going to cost him $7, but that he only had $4.  "Could I possibly give him the necessary extra $3," he wanted to know.  Without hesitation, I reached into my wallet and gave him the money he had requested.  He was so appreciative and couldn't stop saying "God bless you" as I left.
     I've written a number of times about situations like these and the dilemma they can present.  On the one hand, there are plenty of con artists out there and this could simply be a scam.  On the other hand, he sure looked like he could use a hand; and it's unusual for someone to have at least part of the money they need and to be so specific in their request.  I've also come to think that even if some of these people I help aren't entirely truthful about their situation, if they're so bad off that they have to beg strangers for help, then the  least I can do is assist them anyway.
     It's also an interesting observation that nearly every time I do one of these types of acts of kindness, the recipient offers a somewhat religious affirmation -"God bless you", for example.  I'm not really sure just what that's about.  I don't know if they're really "believers" in a particular religion, or if it's just a generic way of expressing appreciation.  Either way, it's interesting how frequently I've experienced that.
     I also took time to pick up any trash I noticed on the ground as I was walking through the terminal.  It wasn't a big deal, but I saw it, and there were lots of trash cans around, so why not pick it up? 
     And, as usual, I made a point to use the name of any worker I encountered who was wearing some kind of name tag.  A simple thing that makes the world feel more personal.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

A Letter to Uganda

     Today I wrote another letter to John, the 8 year old child I've been sponsoring in Uganda through Compassion International.  I recently received a letter from him as well.  He drew some pictures for me and told me about how his family was harvesting beans and maize.  It's truly almost impossible to fathom just how different his life must be from anything remotely like my own upbringing.  
     Compassion International is a pretty amazing organization that currently facilitates the sponsorship of more than 1.1 million children around the world!  That's a staggering number.  While it's a faith-based organization, and it's a faith I don't personally share, I can't help but be impressed and moved by all the good the organization is doing.  They make it incredibly easy to sponsor a child, and then to keep in touch.  I can simply write a letter on their website and can even upload pictures, and then they have the letter translated and delivered to my child.
     My son Ben has been sponsoring a couple of children for some time now, and when he was in Rwanda last year, he had the opportunity to visit his child and his family in their small village.  Here's a link to the blog post Ben wrote about that experience.
     We all can see every day the many ways in which technology has made our world smaller.  It's easier than ever to do business around the world, to communicate with people around the world, and to learn about people and events around the world.  It's also easier than ever to be kind to people around the world.

Friday, February 22, 2013


     I was traveling home on a flight from Orlando this afternoon and I was seated in the aisle seat.  When the plane landed and it was time to gather our belongings from the overhead bins, I asked the woman next to me if she'd like me to reach her things for her.  I know what it's like when you're in the window seat and you have to wait for everyone as you try to get to your stuff.  She appreciated my getting it for her.
     This was one of the many incredibly small and simple things that make up kindness.  One of the things I've noticed in the past year is that some of the most appreciated forms or kindness are when they're unexpected.  When you anticipate someone else's needs and respond to them before they're noticed or asked for.  Of course, this takes awareness.  I think one of the results of a year of kindness for me is that my awareness is much more tuned in to looking for, or anticipating these opportunities, and then responding to them.  Like anything else, it takes practice.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Garbage Man

     I was out running this morning in the dark, cold, and wind, and as I was finishing up I saw a garbage can lying on its side in front of a house, with the lid a few feet away and with a bag of trash having fallen out in front of it.  This kind of thing sometimes happens on windy days. I initially ran right past the can, eager to get done and get on some warm clothes; and to be honest, I hate having to stop my run.  However, after a year of practicing kindness, I had a hard time ignoring the opportunity to take care of it.  So I turned around (I was just a few steps past the garbage) and picked up the trash and put the can upright, replacing its lid.  Then I went on to finish the run.
     Prior to the past year I would have no doubt run past without taking the time to address the issue.  After all, it wasn't my garbage, and "somebody else" will/should handle it.  But I've come to see that kindness is a shared responsibility.  It really doesn't matter whose job it "should" be.  I saw it, so why not stop and take care of it?  I suppose that's a big part of what it means to be part of a community - thinking of our world as a shared responsibility as opposed to only worrying about my stuff.  A simple, but powerful thought.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Pizza Makes A Man Happy

     I was traveling to Charlotte today and had a couple of opportunities to spread some kindness.  Our plane out of Philly was delayed nearly an hour due to some maintenance paperwork (this kind of thing has unfortunately become all too common), and this put a lot of pressure on many people who had connections to make.  Charlotte is one of US Air's hubs, so there were quite a few people stuck in this position.  In fact, the man sitting next to me spent most of the flight muttering obscenities as a way of venting his frustration.  When we finally landed, I sat patiently in my seat and let everyone who had connections to make get off ahead of me.  
     After I settled into my hotel this evening, I went in search of a good pizza place to have dinner.  Several blocks away I found one called "Libretto's."  I noticed they had whole wheat dough on their menu and I was excited to enjoy a whole wheat pizza.  Unfortunately, the waitress informed me that they ran out of whole wheat dough over the weekend when they served a big convention.  Nevertheless, the pizza was still quite good.  When the waitress brought my check, she also brought me a $10 gift card as a way of apologizing for not having the whole wheat dough I was craving!  This was a surprising, but thoughtful gesture, and gave me a chance to expand the kindness.
     As I walked to the restaurant before dinner, I noticed a man out front about a block away who was playing the drums, seated in front of a basket in which he was collecting money.  I tossed in a few coins that were in my pocket and gave him a friendly smile.  When I was leaving the restaurant, I decided that it might be nice to give him the gift card.  When I gave it to him and explained what it was, he was incredulous.  I don't think I've ever seen some one so excited.  He kept thanking me, telling everyone around us what I had given him, and saying, "I get to eat!"  While it was sad to think that "getting to eat" was such a momentous occasion, I was nonetheless glad to be able to bring him such joy.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Catching Up on a Few Stories

     I've been a little out of the writing habit for the past week, so I'll use this blog post to get caught up on a few recent stories.  
     I was on the road in Detroit for the better part of last week.  While I was waiting for my bags to arrive at the airport there, I noticed two older women who were struggling to maneuver several heavier bags as they came off the carousel.  Seeing the challenge they were having, I offered to get their bags for them and take them over to where they were waiting for their ride.  It only took an extra minute, and it made it far easier for them.  When my bags showed up, as has become my custom, I went into the US Air baggage claim office and let them know that I had no problems and appreciated the good service.  As usual, they were surprised to hear from someone with no complaints, and pleased nonetheless.
     While in Detroit for business, I used the time as an opportunity to connect with two friends, each of whom I enjoyed a dinner with.  The first was a former business colleague who is from Detroit.  The second was a couple who I met more than 20 years ago and hadn't ever had the chance to visit.  It was fabulous to reconnect with these friends.  Not that I needed it, but it was yet another reminder of just how rewarding it is when I reach out and make that effort. In fact, I was just looking at my calendar and noticing that I have gotten together with 12 different friends in various cities (including home) so far this year.
     Throughout my trip, I was particularly mindful to read the name tags people were wearing (TSA, flight attendants, car rental clerks, hotel front desk people, etc.) and to thank people by using their name.  It's such a small thing, but it makes the world a little more personal.
     When I landed back home in Philadelphia, my bags arrived faster than I think I can ever remember.  It was less than 15 minutes from the time my plane landed until my bags were in hand.  For that, I definitely had to go in and thank the people in the baggage claim office!  Who knows, maybe the good vibes I'm creating are impacting my baggage success?!  By the way, I've been thinking about a way to get more people to report good news to the baggage claim office and one of my Detroit friends had a good suggestion.  Stay tuned for more on that story as I try it out . . . 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Returning Home

     I was returning home today after being away in Arizona (where the weather was considerably nicer than in NJ) while visiting my parents and my sister.  A few interesting things happened along my journey.
     First, I noticed this sign on a counter in the Phoenix airport.  I'm happy to say that it seems as though the kindness "movement" seems to be gaining steam.  I regularly read articles and see news events now highlighting acts of kindness.  A friend sent me a FB message today with a link to another kindness article she read.  And by the way, you can go to Google and set up a Google alert for Random Acts of Kindness.  Google will then send you a link every single day with various articles about acts of kindness happening around the world.  These are great reminders of the impact that each of us can have.
     As I was walking through the jetway, on the way to boarding the plane, I noticed a piece of trash sitting right in the middle of the path.  I also noticed everyone walk right past it, assuming that someone else would pick it up.  I chose to take the extra second to pick it up and deposit it in the garbage.  This is one of those things I likely wouldn't have done a year ago, but I now have an increased awareness of the opportunity.  After all, keeping our surroundings clean isn't someone else's job.  It's all of our jobs.
     When I landed in Philly this afternoon, I retrieved my bags from baggage claim without incident.  They actually came pretty quickly, too.  As has become my custom, I immediately went to the US Air baggage claim office and reported that I had no problems at all and thanked them for the good service.  I left 3 workers with big smiles and happy faces.
     Kindness sure isn't hard to do.  It just takes awareness and intentionality.  I guess that's a lot of what last year taught me.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Surprise Gifts

     In the last couple of days, I was involved in two different conversations in which I saw a great opportunity to surprise someone with a useful gift.  In the first conversation, I was on the phone with a friend and he was telling me about an author that he particularly liked.  This author is also great with a live audience, though my friend had never seen him.  When our call was done, I went to Amazon and was able to find a DVD of one of this author's live performances.  A few clicks later, and the DVD was on its way to my friend.
     Around the same time, I was talking with another person I know and I mentioned a product that I knew she would absolutely love and get a ton of use from.  It's not overly expensive, but is really great.  Once again, I was able to find what I was looking for on Amazon and have it sent to her as a surprise.  
     These are fun things to do.  They demonstrate to the recipients both that you're listening and that you care.  And with the internet, it's easier than ever to act upon the impulse to give. Particularly if it's not expensive, there's really no good excuse for not making the effort to be generous.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Follow-up and Continuation

     Today's story is sort of a follow-up from a story I wrote last week, and is also a continuation of it in a way.  Let me explain:
     Last weekend, I wrote about going through the drive-thru line at the bank and giving the teller a Chick-Fil-A gift card.  It certainly surprised and delighted her, and she readily agreed to my request that she "pay it forward."  Well, in this week's mail, I found a card hand-addressed to me from the bank.  I couldn't think what it could be.  It turns out that the teller thought to look up my home address and she wrote me a beautiful thank-you note, once again assuring me that she will pay it forward.  That was pretty cool.
     Today, I needed to make a deposit at the bank so I decided to do something similar, but with a twist.  I first stopped at our Philadelphia Soft Pretzel shop on Main Street and I bought a bag of pretzels.  They were literally steaming hot.  Resisting the temptation to eat a few, I drove to the bank (a different branch this time) and headed for the drive-thru window.  I had to make sure it was the lane closest to the building where you get the sliding drawer, because I didn't think I could squeeze the pretzels into that small vacuum tube!
     Anyway, I pulled up to the window and placed my deposit along with the bag of hot pretzels into the drawer, eager to watch for the reaction of the teller.  She looked at me quizzically, not sure what was going on.  I told her they were for her to enjoy and then she smiled and laughed and revealed that she wasn't sure at first what was in the bag, and if it was some kind of trick or joke.  I assured her that it wasn't.  When she finished the transaction and asked if there was anything else she could do for me, I told her there was.  I explained that I needed her to pay it forward by doing something nice for someone else. To that she happily agreed.
     Sometimes when I do things like this I feel like I'm doing an episode from  the old show, Candid Camera.  The only trick to it is that there is no trick.  And that's the most fun part.  Making someone smile just for the sake of it, with the only strings attached being a request that they pay it forward.  Simple and pure.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Visiting an Old Coach

     I was in the Palm Beach, Florida area working with a client yesterday.  Knowing that I'd be in the region, a couple of weeks ago I reached out to my former college XC and track coach who lives in West Palm Beach and offered to take he and his wife out to dinner.  I've only seen him once or twice in the past 25-30 years, and I know how much he appreciates seeing his former athletes, so I particularly wanted to make the effort.
     I got to his home around 6:30, and after seeing his "monument room" with pictures and mementos of his 50 years of coaching, we all went out to dinner.  After dinner, we hung out at his house for a few hours and enjoyed some of his homemade chocolate pudding.  We shared stories of old times, people we each knew and remembered, as well as stories that were new to each of us.  It was fun to be with him, and I know the visit meant a lot to him.  I'll try to make it happen again the next time I'm in town.
     I continue to be reminded about how much these various relationships do enrich my own life at the same time as they hopefully impact others.  And I'll continue to make that effort to make connections wherever I happen to find myself.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

A Little Kindness at the Bank

     I swung by the bank this afternoon because I needed to cash a check.  Noticing that the drive-through lines were completely empty, I figured I'd go that route rather than parking and going inside.  As I pulled up to the window, I decided it might be a good day to surprise the teller with a gift.
     When the teller slid the drawer open for me to place my banking items, I put the check I wanted to cash in there, but I also added a gift card from Chick-Fil-A.  Curiously, the teller made no reaction as I watched her efficiently handle the transaction and count out my cash for accuracy.  Then she placed the money back into the drawer and told me that she was giving me back the card because I must have accidentally left it in there.  When I explained that it was for her, she smiled, almost in an embarrassed way, and asked me "Why?" I responded that I wanted her to have a nice day.  "That's SO nice of you!" she exclaimed, to which I responded that it was my pleasure and asked that she do something nice for someone else.  She assured me that she would definitely "pay it forward" and I left, knowing that she'd be smiling the rest of the day and telling her family and friends about the strange thing that happened at work today.
     What could be better than making someone smile like that?  To be honest, I don't think she was necessarily the friendliest teller I've ever seen.  She wasn't bad, but she also wasn't great.  Her whole demeanor certainly changed after our exchange, and I'd like to think she had a little extra spring in her step and smile in her voice after that.  Hopefully, it even rubbed off on those who were around her, or those customers she handled the rest of the afternoon.

Friday, January 18, 2013


     I had lunch today with an old friend/business colleague who I've known now for almost 30 years.  Over these many years, we've fallen out of touch for long stretches at a time, but then always seem to find each other and reconnect again.  Over the past year or two, we've tried to meet for lunch every 6 months or so; and it's amazing how easy it is to pick up right where we left off.
     I had reached out to her a few weeks ago to schedule today's lunch as it had been a number of months since we had spoken.  While it seems like I'm the one doing most of the "reaching out" for so many of my friends, the effort proves to be well worth it every single time.  As I've written about many times, these get-togethers are where relationships are really deepened.
     During today's lunch, I also had the opportunity to provide some useful feedback to my friend regarding some opportunities she was exploring.  I enjoy playing the role of "sounding board" and seem to have a knack for helping people sort out issues in a way that provides them with some important insight and clarity.  It's a pleasure to use that skill to help people.
     I've often wished that I had a more tangible skill that I could employ on behalf of people.  I hear about doctors going overseas and donating time to treat sick children on humanitarian mission trips.  Or I hear about people who help their friends and neighbors build an addition or fix a leak.  To be honest, I'm pretty useless on most of these tasks and doing virtually anything with my hands.  My biggest skill tends to be my ability to bring clarity of thought to situations, a skill not often identified as critical to help people in developing nations.  Nonetheless, I do take pleasure in being able to help someone like I did today.  I suppose we all tend to overlook or under-appreciate the things that come most easily to us.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Few More

     I got home from Orlando this evening and this is the first chance I've had to blog about a few acts of kindness over the past day or two.  In no particular order, I'll write about them here.
     When I got to Orlando yesterday, after successfully retrieving my bags from baggage claim, I went to the US Airways baggage office down there and let them know that I wanted to report that I had no problems at all.  There were three or four people working behind the counter and they not only smiled, but they all gave me a big ovation.  They laughed and were appreciative to hear some good comments for a change.
     After dinner last night I went for a walk in the area surrounding the hotel.  It was a nice night and I found a frozen yogurt place where I could get a late night treat.  On my way back, a young man approached me and haltingly explained that he was from Puerto Rico, wasn't a beggar, but things hadn't worked out for him and he hadn't eaten all day.  He asked if there was anything I could do to help.  My first thought was to give him my Subway card from the other day, but I didn't see any Subway shops anywhere in the vicinity.  I went ahead and gave him $10.  Here again, who knows if he was just scamming me, but I don't think so.  Either way, he clearly needed some help and I could certainly afford to at least do something.
     When I got home to Philly this evening, I once again thanked the people in the baggage office after I had gotten my bags without issue.  I'm starting to like making that a habit.  It's such a simple thing, but it's sort of like reporting good news - so often overlooked, but worth telling.
     Lastly, when I was giving a talk this morning, there was a person in the audience who had a very cool company that helped create ways for families to spend more time communicating with each other, specifically around the dinner table.  I remembered that someone I spoke to when I was in Virginia recently was struggling with this issue in her family.  This evening I sent her an e-mail with a link to the site.  She'll likely be surprised that I even remembered, let alone took the time to reach out to her.  And by the way, here's a link to the site.  It's well worth checking out.
     OK - that's it for me tonight!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Three Examples

     I've been on the road today, having worked with one client in Pittsburgh this morning and then on my way to Orlando where I'll be giving a talk in the morning, but that didn't keep me from capitalizing on three opportunities to spread some kindness and demonstrate some compassion.  Here's what happened:
     During the morning, I was leading a class where we were working on two communication skills:  speaking straight and listening generously.  During the session, one of the employees of the company for which I was working demonstrated a strong intuitive sense for the material.  Though she was "just" a receptionist/administrative assistant, she really took on the training wholeheartedly and clearly demonstrated some leadership in the process.  As I was sitting in the airport later, I made a point to send her an e-mail acknowledging the specific contributions she made to the group.  I've already heard back from her letting me know how much the "pat on the back" meant to her.
     There was another person in this company whose story presented an entirely different challenge.  Without going into too much detail, let me just say that this person suffered a serious personal tragedy in the last year and that attending this session was particularly challenging because of certain reminders it created for her.  It took an amazing amount of personal courage for her to be there.  I also sent her an e-mail today, letting her know how much I respected and admired the courage she demonstrated and letting her know how much I was for her success and available to help.  
     Lastly, I'm doing some coaching for the CEO of another client whose company was doing a layoff yesterday.  When I was there last week, we spent considerable time planning the communication to the organization, part of which was going to take place this evening in a company meeting.  I reached out to the CEO by text multiple times over the past 2 days - first to see if he needed any last-minute help, and second to give him a few reminders and wish him luck.  I know he appreciated my offer, and more importantly, the way that I demonstrated my personal care and interest in him.
     As is so often the case, none of these instances cost any money at all.  Instead, what they required was a few key things:
  • Paying attention to people and their needs
  • Taking a personal interest in them and their success
  • Taking the initiative to act on that concern by reaching out to them with a very specific message.
     Here's something else I noticed today.  I felt great, knowing that I had made a real difference for all three of these people.  Of course, I did it for them, and not for how it would make me feel.  But I felt better nonetheless.  It's definitely a recurring theme that the more we do for others, the more we feel good ourselves.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Advice for Another Friend

     A few nights ago, I wrote about how a friend had reached out to me because her brother had recently written a book and was looking for some guidance on publishing and marketing the book.  Well, believe it or not, I also got a similar e-mail from the husband of a different friend.  And of course, I was happy to oblige this person as well.
     I spent about 40 minutes on the phone this evening explaining what I had learned about the various ways of getting a book published, and the associated advantages and disadvantages of each.  Like most, he was confused by the overwhelming amount of information out there and unsure of what to believe.  I was able to provide him with some clarity about how the field works so that he can move forward on his project with more confidence. 
     As I noted the other night, I often think of these types of acts of kindness mostly as playing my part in the huge, complex, chain of networked people.  Just as I'm willing to share my knowledge, experience, and contacts with this person, others have done the same for me, and still others have done the same for those who helped them.  And that's what networking is really all about.  We each do our part, not knowing how or when or where it comes back to us, but still knowing that it ultimately does in one form or another.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Airport Kindness

     I flew to Pittsburgh this evening and three things of note happened along the way.  Let me tell you about them and what I noticed.
     The first thing that happened was that when I first arrived at the airport in Philly, I noticed an older woman sitting in the area where the ticket counters were.  She must have thought I looked like I knew what I was doing because she stopped me and asked if she was allowed to have a water bottle in that part of the airport.  I explained to her how she could have it anywhere, just not as she went through security.  It occurred to me that an airport can feel pretty intimidating when you don't know the routines.  As a matter of fact, so can many other places.  I remember when I first joined the country club to which I belong, my friend who "sponsored" me did a great job of explaining the various unstated rules, routines, and procedures that "regulars" know as if it's second nature.  But when we're new, it can feel overwhelming as we try to avoid doing the "wrong" thing.  It sure is nice when people can anticipate this and take the time to demystify the situation and explain all those little things.
     The second thing that happened was subtle, but I think important.  When we were getting ready to deplane, the woman who was sitting next to me (I was in the window seat) asked if I'd like her to reach my backpack which was stowed in the overhead bin from which she was getting her own things.  I overheard multiple other conversations around me where people were being so helpful to each other and polite as well.  It was another reminder to me that most people really are kind and helpful to each other.  We're so quick to notice, talk about, and complain about the exception, that we fail to notice the kindness that surrounds us everyday.
     The third thing that happened was that I followed up on the commitment I noted the other day with regard to baggage claim.  When I got my bag with no problem, I went into the baggage office and let them know that I was there to report that I had no problem at all.  Once again, the person behind the counter smiled and said he appreciated getting good news for once.  I'll continue to do this as often as possible throughout the year.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Sharing My Experience

     A friend of mine recently asked me if it would be OK for her brother to contact me to pick my brain about book publishing and marketing.  Naturally I responded that it would be my pleasure to help in any way that I could.  It took a few attempts back and forth to finally coordinate a phone call, but we were able to connect this afternoon.
     I spent about an hour sharing my experiences with this new author and, more importantly, sharing what I had learned in the process.  Like with most things, if you've never done it before it can be hard to understand the ins and outs of a new field.  While I'm certainly lightyears from being an expert in this area, I still know more than a novice, and I was able to provide him with some thoughts that were helpful.
     When I finished the call, I was thinking about the whole nature of networking.  This person got connected to me through his sister who was a friend of mine.  In a similar way, I have many times reached out to my network of connections to find a particular thing, be it knowledge or some assistance or even another name.  Networking like this presupposes that each person is willing to help another person knowing that in the big picture others will similarly help you.  It's a great example of the simple benefits of kindness for everyone.  I'm always glad to play my part in that chain.

Friday, January 11, 2013

No Baggage Issue

     I flew home from Ft. Lauderdale this evening and it was uneventful.  Now that sounds like a silly statement because normally we only make a comment if there was a problem.  We complain about flight delays, poor service, cramped seats, lost or damaged baggage, and any number of other things that can happen when we travel.  But when everything goes smoothly, we rarely make note of it.  With all the travel I'm doing this year, I'm going to try to change that.
     When I arrived back home in Philadelphia I went to the baggage claim area to await the arrival of my bags.  Within a reasonable amount of time, they arrived, and with no apparent damage or problems.  Noting this, I grabbed them and headed for the baggage service office.  This is the office where people go to track down lost bags and make arrangements for delivery.  I can only imagine what it must be like to deal with frustrated, even angry, passengers all day long.  So I went to the counter and announced to the three people working there that I had no issues at all and just wanted to let them know that all was good and that I appreciated it.  They were predictably surprised and unquestionably pleased to hear some good news for a change.  They thanked me and gave me a big thumbs up sign.
     This gets me thinking about all the other places where it might be nice to report that there are no problems.  I'm going to try to speak up as often as possible when I notice this.  Wouldn't that be a welcome change?!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

I Tried

     I was in Fort Lauderdale this evening and didn't get to my hotel until around 7:30 or so.  Since this was one of those rare nights on the road that I was not able to arrange to meet a friend (he wasn't available!), soon after I checked in I got back in my car to look for someplace to get a bite to eat.  As I pulled up to an intersection and the light turned red, I noticed a disheveled looking man standing on the side of the road holding a sign that had some sort of plea for help.  He was walking among the cars looking for handouts.  I was in the middle lane, so he didn't come past my car, but as I sat there I kept thinking that I ought to at least give him something.  I rolled down my window to try to get his attention, but the light changed before he ever saw me.
     As I pulled away, I kept thinking about this man.  "Beggars" like this always present an interesting dilemma.  On the one hand, the man could simply be a scam artist.  And who knows what decisions led him to this place?  On the other hand, does it really matter?  At some level, he certainly needed help or he wouldn't be there.  And while I'm not in any position to solve whatever his life problems may be, I can certainly at least make today a little better.
     So after I got something to eat, I noticed that there was a Subway sandwich shop across the street from where I had originally seen the man.  I stopped in and bought a $10 gift card to give to the man so he could get something to eat.  The problem, however, was that I he was no longer on the street corner where I had previously seen him!  I drove up and down the road a bit in each direction to see if I could catch him, but he was nowhere to be found.
     So now I have a Subway gift card that I'll carry in my wallet, looking for just the right recipient.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Deepening Relationships

     Last night I had a wonderful dinner in Virginia with a college friend who I hadn't seen in nearly 30 years.  Tonight I had dinner in North Carolina with a relatively new friend who I only met several months ago.  What was similar about these visits and why were they important?  Let me try to explain.
     Another relatively new friend asked me in an e-mail the other day if I would share my perspective on keeping in touch with people long-term, as it appeared to her that I put forth a good deal of effort in this regard.  This got me thinking more about why I do this, and why I enjoy and value it.
     Over the years, I've found that I'm not very good at, nor do I enjoy, the mostly meaningless idle chit chat that so often gets passed off as a relationship.  Seeing people at a large party where it's too loud or uncomfortable to do much more than exchange pleasantries is never very satisfying for me.  I'm not even very patient about the silly conversations when people ask things like, "All ready for the holidays?", or "How was your weekend?", or "It's not the heat, it's the humidity."  Even when they ask about the kids, they're usually not listening and more often seem to be saying something just to say something.
     I much prefer to spend what I would consider to be "quality time" with someone, typically one-on-one.  This gives me a chance to ask more probing, insightful questions, and to really listen to and understand their answers, and similarly, it gives me a chance to share much more of myself with them on a far deeper level.  I find the best way to do this is typically over lunch or dinner, not with a large group of people.  When it's just me and the other person, sitting directly across from each other, it's almost hard not to engage in more meaningful dialogue since there's nothing to distract us.  And as we share more and more of ourselves with each other, and we really get to know about each other, the relationship naturally deepens.
     Since most of us tend to fill our days with busy-ness and there's hardly a free moment, it takes intentional effort in order to schedule meaningful time with each other.  Unfortunately, most people don't seem to take on that challenge.  They let inertia take over and one day simply flows into the next, mostly filled with cursory exchanges, all the while proclaiming that relationships are what matter the most in life.
     In contrast, I try to make that effort to break out of the inertia of my "normal" routine and I make specific arrangements to connect with people one-on-one.  I have some friends at home who I will call from time to time and go to lunch with them.  We have such rich and meaningful conversations and so enjoy each other's company.  I've done several of these just in the last few weeks and have several more coming up in the next few weeks.  As I've written about in many blogs, it seems like I know people in most major cities.  When I'm going to be in their area, I make the effort to call or write to them and suggest we get together, even if I haven't seen them in 30 years (that just makes it even more fun!)  Just in the past year I've spent quality time with new and old friends in Minneapolis, Phoenix, Houston, Birmingham, Tampa, Northern Virginia, Chicago, Atlanta, Williamsburg, and Cleveland, just to name a few.  And in the next 2-3 months I've already arranged to meet friends I know in Palm Beach, Detroit, Columbia, Charleston, Phoenix, Buffalo, Tampa, and Northern Virginia again.
     I get such satisfaction and enjoyment from these relationships (and hopefully these people do as well!).  I find them enriching, nourishing, and thought-provoking.  But here's the thing:  Virtually none of them would happen if I didn't make the effort.  And this is as true for old friends as it is for new ones.  Old friends can easily disappear from our lives if we don't make the effort to see each other.  And new friends don't happen much if we don't go out on a limb and invest in each other.  I can think of a number of new friends I have, whose relationship I treasure, that wouldn't have happened if I didn't reach out and choose to visit them, even when we didn't yet know each other that well.  
     In a world of short attention spans, where superficiality rules, and where we become obsessed with our iPads and smartphones, I'm intentionally choosing to invest in relationships.  In creating meaningful new ones, and in renewing and deepening old ones.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Scarcity or Abundance?

     This evening, I find myself coming back to a topic I think I wrote about at some point earlier last year, and it's the notion of whether we have a scarcity mentality or an abundance mentality.  Let me explain what happened today that led to those thoughts.
     I was giving a talk this morning to a group of CEOs to whom I had previously spoken last summer.  This was a chance to find out how much they had implemented of what I taught them, what obstacles they still faced, and what additional help they needed.  After the meeting, a woman asked me if I could send her some examples of material I had written for others as it would help to give her some ideas.  Another CEO asked if I could give him some feedback on some of the things he had recently written.  
     As I thought about their requests, I found myself caught in a tricky spot.  From a professional standpoint, the nature of these talks is that I get paid (though not a ton) to provide value for the audience, but the meaningful compensation comes when they engage me separately as a consultant to work with them on implementing my ideas.  To simply "give away" too much of my intellectual property without them engaging me is a bit foolhardy.  And yet, a part of me intuitively feels that it's better to err on the side of giving away too much than giving away too little.  And that's what had me thinking about scarcity vs. abundance.
     When we think from a scarcity mentality, we have a general point of view that the good things in life, whether they be tangible resources like food or money or less tangible things like intellectual capital or even love, are limited in quantity.  The  natural implication of this thinking is that we should dole them our carefully, for these things exist in limited supply, and there may not be enough to go around.  
     The opposite approach is to have an abundance mentality.  This point of view is founded on a belief that we generally have a more than ample supply of the good things in life and that whatever we give away tends to get replenished anyway.  When we subscribe to this approach, it's easier to give freely to others because we're not worried about "running out" of whatever we're giving.
     As it relates specifically to the example from today, I chose to think from abundance and to err on the side of giving away too much.  I reminded myself that the more I give away, the more comes back to me in one form or another.  I've accumulated a tremendous amount of knowledge, experience, and wisdom about certain topics over the years.  That wisdom does little good when it's saved and stored away like money in a bank account.  It's not like I should be saving wisdom to be used on a rainy day when I don't have enough. No, the point in accumulating wisdom is to give it back to others who can benefit from it.
     I'm learning to realize that the more I share "my stuff", the more it spreads out into the world far and wide, the greater is my contribution to others.  Sometimes that's done in one-on-one conversations; other times it's done in my speaking and consulting; and still other times it's done in my writing in blogs and other places, not to mention in the example I try to set.  In the end, I try to trust in the world that I ultimately get what I need.  Financially, I do end up getting compensated handsomely, and well beyond my needs, from a variety of sources, regardless of what I've given away.  And just as importantly, my compensation takes a variety of forms.  It's not just money.  The satisfaction I get from seeing and knowing the impact I've been able to have for others is itself a significant form of compensation or payback for my effort.  And the old adage that you reap what you sow seems clearly to be true.  The size of our reward tends to be in direct proportion to the size of our contribution, in all its various forms.
     I see the world as abundant, and I'll continue to remind myself to give from that perspective.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Nice or Kind?

     I had an interesting phone call today that reminded me of the difference between being "nice" and being "kind".  Let me tell you what happened first, and then explain why this difference is important.
     I was invited by a friend to attend an event she was hosting last night, and I readily agreed.  As it turned out, the evening ended up being more of a marketing event that I had expected.  For a variety of reasons, it made me very uncomfortable and I thought there were many ways it could have been handled much better.  Though I didn't think it was the time and place to express my feelings, I let my friend know that if she wanted some candid feedback I'd be happy to talk more the next day (today). 
     My friend and I have enough respect for each other that I could be quite candid without fear of hurting her feelings or damaging our relationship.  And I was.  In a constructive way, I was honest about how I was feeling during the meeting and offered many suggestions for how it could be improved in the future.  My friend was able to hear my comments in the spirit in which they were intended and was quite appreciative of my candor, as it seems many of my thoughts mirrored her own.  Our conversation was productive and useful.
     I certainly could have been "nice", like most people often are, and either not said anything or told her that it was a great meeting.  But would that be kind?  I don't think so.  While we don't always think of it this way, being kind is very demanding.  It requires us to really look out for the interests of another.  Sometimes that means having difficult or awkward conversations, not simply to get something off our chest, but rather to be helpful to another person.  Being kind to our children might mean expecting more of them than they're currently showing, or holding them accountable for being the best they can be.  This may not look like we're being "nice", but it's infinitely more kind.
     I was glad that I cared enough to be kind to my friend and respected her enough to be honest.  I think she was glad as well.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Back By Popular Demand

     Well, it seems that more people than I realized look forward to reading these kindness stories regularly, and more importantly, draw some inspiration from them.  So . . . I'll keep on writing, though not quite every day.  In this post, I'll recount a story from yesterday as well as one from today.
     The other day I received a text from a friend who asked if she could meet with me to get my thoughts and insights on some business ideas she was very excited about.  It had some urgency for her so I agreed to meet with her quickly (which meant yesterday - Jan 1st).  We spent several hours together and hopefully I was able to provide some of the insight she was looking for.  
     We each have networks we've built of friends, family members, work associates, church members, etc.  These people are a great source of information, resources, and connections.  And it's all based on a loose sense of "quid pro quo."  A notion that if I help people in my network, there will be a time at some point where I need help and they will be there for me.  I don't think of it like any type of IOU; rather it's a more generalized sense of people helping each other out knowing, in a vague kind of way, that "what goes around comes around."  I was glad to play my part in this interconnected chain.

     Today presented another simple opportunity to be kind to a stranger.  I went to the post office this afternoon to mail a book and an audio book to a client.  For some strange reason, the line was longer than I've ever seen there - even longer than right before Christmas.  There were literally at least 15-20 people in line in our small post office, and there were only 1 or 2 clerks working the desk. I settled in for a long wait, not really minding too terribly since I wasn't in a hurry and I saw a few people I knew who I could talk to.
     Right in front of me was an older woman with a package she needed to send off and it had a postage paid label on it.  I suggested to her that rather than having her wait in that long line, I'd be happy to take it to the counter with me when my turn came up.  She was quite thankful as I saved her quite a bit of time.
     Interestingly, a bit later, another woman in front of me, who I guess had seen what I was doing, asked if the older woman was a friend of mine.  When I explained that I didn't know who she was but just thought it would be nice to do her a favor, the woman was touched.  
     One of the things I've noticed is that there are certain acts of kindness that virtually all of us would naturally do.  For example, if someone right in front of you drops their books, most of us would likely be quick to help pick them up.  However, other acts of kindness require a different level of initiative.  They require us to reach beyond our normal sphere and proactively do something kind for another.  Those are the things I really tried to look for last year and that's the habit I tried to cultivate.  The fact that I so easily saw the opportunity at the post office today suggests to me that my effort to create a kindness habit is working.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Thoughts and Observations After a Year of Practicing Kindness

     It really is hard for me to believe that a year has gone by since I began my "kindness project."  I remember "leaking" the idea to a few close friends and family members as I was contemplating it.  While I knew it was a great idea, I was candidly frightened by the magnitude of the commitment.  I take commitments pretty seriously, and I knew that once I made the project public, I would have "boxed myself in" for the year . . . and a year is a lot of days.  I didn't want to go for it unless I was really prepared to honor my commitment for that length of time.  Of course, I also recognized that it was the public accountability that would ultimately help me to stay with it, which is obviously what happened.
Some Background

     Throughout the year, a number of people asked me what caused me to take this project on.  To be honest, it was a bit of an experiment.  I've always been motivated (and fascinated) by self-improvement.  I like to assess my strengths and weaknesses and to see how I can be better.  After noticing a number of incidents in 2011 in which my first instinct wasn't always rooted in kindness, I began to wonder if it was possible for me to cultivate more kindness as a habit.  Could I make kindness a more habitual response as a part of my personality?  Knowing what I do about creating sustained behavioral change, I realized that it would be imperative that I build structure and accountability into what I was attempting.  This project seemed as good a way to do that as I could think of.
     In addition to injecting an important element of accountability, I created this website/blog as a way of recording my thoughts, observations, and learning along the way.  I didn't start with any hypothesis or have any point to prove.  I simply wanted to do kind things, and then report on what happened and what I noticed or learned, absent any judgment.  And that's exactly what I did for 369 consecutive days.  Let me try to summarize here a few of the basic facts and then the key things that I learned.
Just the Facts, Ma'am

     In total, I did an act of kindness every day for 369 days.  I started three days early, on December 29, 2011, mostly because I wanted to experiment a little before the year got started.  I wanted to see how things would go, how to write my blog, etc.  On that first day, I gave a bag of soft pretzels to a man sitting at a bus stop; and I learned plenty right from the beginning.
     I tried to make sure that not everything I did cost money.  In fact, it turns out that 64% of the acts involved no cost at all.  For example, one day I helped a woman with a baby load groceries into her car.  I took family pictures for strangers at a college graduation.  Many times I drove patients to their doctor appointments as part of the American Cancer Society's Road to Recovery program.  I wrote letters to soldiers, I wrote thank you notes to longtime friends, I wrote cards to sick children, and I visited my old high school principal who now lives in Virginia.  One morning I helped a stranger in Atlanta pick up garbage that was flying around in front of the townhouse community at which she worked.  Fundamentally, I wanted to demonstrate to myself and to others that it doesn't cost anything to be kind.
     Sometimes the acts were totally anonymous.  Several times I bought dessert for a stranger in a restaurant.  I've anonymously sent gift cards in the mail to random addresses and I've surreptitiously shoveled a neighbor's driveway.  
     Other times I've done things for strangers, but they weren't anonymous.  I cooked and delivered a meal for a family who had suffered a tragedy.  Multiple times I delivered flowers to a stranger.  I've given bottled water to a homeless man and I've baked cookies for police officers.  I've delivered hot chocolate to school crossing guards on a cold winter day, and I've made loans to farmers in 3rd world nations.
My Favorites

     When I think about my favorite stories from the year, I probably have three.  I say "probably" because there were so many wonderful things that happened, as you can get a sense for from the many things I mentioned in the preceding paragraphs.  But if I had to choose three, they would be these:

  • My adopted soldier, Logan.  Back in January, I adopted a soldier in Afghanistan to whom I wrote letters every week and sent a care package at least once each month.  Over the course of the year, we became great friends, sharing stories of our families and sharing our love of sports.  In November, at the end of his deployment, I had the opportunity to fly Logan here to spend a weekend with me and to attend an Eagles' game.  Then in December, my wife and I flew out to Kentucky and attended his wedding.  He's become a great friend, and one I never would have known were in not for this program.
  • Sending a woman and her mother for their first ever flight.  I met a woman in late October and after discovering in conversation that she had never before been on an airplane, I offered to use some of my frequent flier miles to remedy that situation.  Eventually, this led to sending the woman and her mother (who also had never flown) on a dream trip to Vegas.  It was a thrill to be able to make this happen for the two of them, and it was an unforgettable experience they were able to share.
  • Road to Recovery Rides.  This is a program sponsored through the American Cancer Society through which volunteers drive patients to their doctor appointments.  I probably drove 8-10 different patients throughout the year, and every one of them was memorable.  I think what I enjoyed most about them was the real sense of impact.  These people desperately needed their treatments, and yet many of them had no transportation at all.  I was making a profound difference for them and they were always so appreciative.

So What Did I Learn?

     One of the unintended, and wonderful, consequences of this project has been the impact it's had on others; and by "others" I'm not referring to the people for whom I've performed acts of kindness.  Rather, I'm referring to those who've been following my blog throughout the year.  Amazingly, between visits to my site and those who are on my daily e-mail feed, my stories have been read more than 100,000 times this year!  What has struck me, in particular, is the feedback I've received from so many people in terms of how it has affected them.
     What I've heard repeatedly is that reading my stories every day has increased their own consciousness about the opportunities for kindness that are all around them.  And more importantly, they are finding themselves doing things for others that they acknowledge they wouldn't have done before. That's pretty cool, though it certainly wasn't my plan.  I was really just doing my own personal experiment and writing mostly to hold myself accountable.  But it ended up going so much further than that.
     Let me share some other observations I've picked up along the way:
  • Kindness is an amazing stress reduction technique.  Throughout the year I've noticed that kindness has this incredible ability to ease tensions and reduce stress, both personally and in groups.  On a personal level, when I focus on just being kind, I notice that I worry less, I feel more relaxed, I don't rush around as much.  Everything just gets easier and more gentle.  In the context of the community, kindness is like a lubricant that makes everything work more easily.  Think of the contrast between a group of people who are pushing and shoving, are fighting for position, or are battling each other versus a group who are polite, kind, and helpful to each other.  The latter simply work better and with less stress.  
  • Kindness and happiness are closely linked.  In nearly all of the literature about the most common practices of happy people, you'll see doing acts of kindness high on the list.  I have certainly found this to be true.  There's something about doing a good deed for another that causes us to feel good ourselves.  Maybe we're biologically designed that way.  Maybe it's simply that when we focus on serving others we stop focusing on our own problems or our own worries.  Whatever it is, it sure seems to work.
  • The world is kinder than we've been led to believe.  Everywhere I went throughout the year I saw lots of examples of basic human decency and kindness.  This was true both in small, simple acts, as well as in response to crisis.  Because the media believes that horror stories sell, they tend to be focused much more on isolated stories of crime and violence and cruelty.  This can lead to a misperception of its prevalence.  It's not very exciting to report that a man helped an old lady across the street today, but it's happening every day all around us.  I've also found that you tend to see whatever you're looking for.  I was looking for kindness, and I saw it everywhere.
  • Kindness is contagious.  It's amazing how one kind act can lead to another.  Just watch someone hold the door open for a few people and you'll see others doing the same.  The cool thing about this fact is that it means we each can have an enormous impact on the world.  Simply by being kind, we begin a ripple that can easily spread further than we could ever have imagined.  I often tried to jumpstart this a bit by suggesting that people "pay it forward."  But either way, I do believe it tends to spread.
  • Kindness is a choice.  I'm not sure it' so much that some people are kind and some aren't.  I think that kindness is more of an action, and most importantly, it's a choice.  Every moment of every day we each have a choice about how to be, how to respond, and what to put out into the world.  And here's the most important thing:  regardless of whatever choices we may have made in the past, we can make a new choice right now to be kind.

How Have I Been Affected and What's Next?

     To be honest, it's a little hard to say just how I've been affected.  I think this is because changes happen so gradually that it can be difficult to notice or delineate them.  I suppose you'd have to ask those around me if they see a difference.  
     I do think that my goal of developing more of a habitual kindness response has been achieved.  After a year of looking for things to do, it's hard for me not to notice them.  Everywhere I look, I see things I can do and am motivated to act on them.  I guess I've really taught myself to notice kindness opportunities that I would never have seen before.  And that's a good thing.
     As to what's next, I hadn't originally planned on going beyond one year, and I have to be honest in saying that it will be nice not to feel the pressure of having to make sure I do something and write about it every single day.  There were certainly days where I felt that pressure and it wasn't always welcome.  Because it's become such a habit though, I expect that I'll continue to do acts of kindness on most days, even if I occasionally miss a day.
     Given how many people have told me the impact that reading my daily stories has had on them, and how they look forward to reading them each day, I'll probably continue to write, just not with the same frequency.  I'm anticipating that it will likely be a few times each week, though we'll see how it all unfolds.
     So here are my final thoughts (well, maybe final):
  • It's been an absolutely fabulous year and a most worthwhile project.
  • I'm proud that I had the courage to take it on, proud that I had the discipline to stay with it, proud to have impacted so many people, and proud to be continuing to work on myself.
  • I'm thankful to all those who encouraged me along the way, and to those who shared your own stories, observations, and reflections.  We're all learning from each other.
I'll close with the Leo Buscaglia quote that's on the masthead of my site:

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.