Friday, March 29, 2013
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
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
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
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
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
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
Regular readers of this blog will know that I have many times written about one of my favorite sites, Kiva.org. 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.