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

Thursday, 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.