Good Deeds

The opportunity to “do good today” is often wrapped in unexpected circumstances. This story is about a conversation I overheard between a business man and a challenged, possibly troubled, teenager on a flight back from Knoxville. As the dialogue unfolded, I listened raptly, and even scribbled it in my notebook. Today I reread the conversation I documented 18 months ago, and was inspired to share it with you.

I was flying from Knoxville to Detroit, after attending the Social Slam, a social media conference founded by Mark Schaefer (click here to see his awesome blog – he’s a true expert). I met Mark when we both spoke at a conference in Ireland.  However, I digress.

We were sitting on the tarmac waiting to take off. The conversation one row behind me began normally enough. I heard the voice of a teenage boy speak to the person next to him.  He spoke slowly, as if he had trouble selecting his words. He then shared that his mom lived in Flint, which is about 90 miles north of Detroit. I heard the murmur of a male voice respond; the person next to the teen was a man.

“I went to Kentucky on spring break,” said the young boy, laboriously pronouncing each word.

“Where?” asked the man.

“In the countryside.”

The man paused. “Well, the countryside is very pretty.”

The boy paused. “I was in a trailer park.”

A long silence ensued, as the implications of living in a trailer park were considered. Typically, it is housing selected by people who are of lesser means.

“It’s not so pretty when the trailer is a mess,” the boy added in a low voice.

The man asked a few questions that one might ask a teen, inquiring about school, friends. He received yes or no answers.  Then it was the young man’s turn.

“Do you have any kids?”

“I have one girl.”

“Do you have any more kids?”

“Well, actually, we do have a baby on the way!  It’s a boy.”

Silence.

“Why is it taking so long?” asked the boy. The plane hadn’t moved for some time.

“We are probably waiting for clearance to take off.”

“Where did the lady go?”

“She’s sitting up front,” said the man, “I can see her strapped in so we will be leaving soon.”

“I don’t know if I can stay awake,” said the boy, as if it were cause for alarm.

“Well, why don’t you just go ahead and close your eyes?” replied the man in a soothing tone.

I wanted to peek over the back of my seat and tell the man that he was an angel, but I didn’t.

“There was a boy rushing me,” said the teen. “I don’t like to be rushed.”

“Nobody likes to be rushed.”

“My mom doesn’t like to be rushed, either.”

After a short pause, the boy asked where the man was flying to.

“Frankfurt,” said the man.

“Where’s Frankfurt?”

“It’s in Germany.”

“That’s far away!” cried the boy, full of concern.

“Yes, it is.”

“Is it in London?”

The man hesitated. “It’s near London.”

“Oh,” replied the boy, as if he was measuring how right or wrong he was. “London is far away.”  The man murmured in agreement.

“My hair is a mess.  My mom said so.”

After the slightest hesitation, the man said, “It looks pretty good to me.”

Then the engines roared and we were thrust back into our seats.  During the flight it was too noisy to hear anything else they said.  It gave me time for me to appreciate the kindness of the stranger behind me, and to remember that we all endure circumstances that cause us pain.

Human suffering is hard to see or hear. We often can’t tell from the outside how much pain someone is feeling on the inside. It’s too bad we don’t all have an Anguish Meter that prominently displays our internal state, or a red flashing Pain Beacon, alerting the world that we could use a kind word or gesture of encouragement.

When we landed and were “free to move about the cabin”, I grabbed my bag from the compartment above my seat. I glanced back at the boy. He looked to be about 15 years old, was dressed in a red plaid shirt and blue jeans, and was a little overweight.  He had blond, disheveled hair with wavy bangs mostly covering his large blue eyes. He was staring out the window and twisting his hands anxiously.

I looked at the business man, held his gaze, and silently extended my right hand. He accepted my handshake, and we shared a fleeting smile. I didn’t say a word. I didn’t have to. I shifted my bag to my shoulder, turned, and walked off the plane.

I wonder how many self-leadership opportunities I’ve missed to “do good today” since I first heard that conversation 18 months ago.  Dozens? Hundreds? I’m not great a injecting myself into situations unless the problem is clearly evident.  And many social problems are not clearly evident.

I’ve been in a bit of a funk as I manage my new work schedule, a long power outage (more on that later), my work computer crashing, and having clients and colleagues in from Europe – all of those challenges overlapped in a period of five days.  I didn’t eat well or get enough rest. I was griping about it to a friend. He replied, “Those are high-class problems to have.”  Hmmm…

My call to action is to set some of my chaos aside (it never really goes away, does it?) and focus on recognizing the opportunity “to do good today” more clearly, like with 20/20 vision.  I hope that by writing this, and recalling again how my heart was touched by the kindness of one stranger to another, maybe I can find that same seed of compassion in my heart. Maybe I can lean on it, leverage it, trust it, and act on it.  I will try to do better.

Do you have a favorite “do good today” story that you’d like to share? Maybe someone was kind to you, or you to them?

Maureen

Ideation ~ Strategic ~ Learner ~ Achiever ~ Individualization ~ Maximizer”

12 thoughts on “Good Deeds

  1. What a lovely post about the power of compassion and embracing the opportunities to put ourselves “over there with others”, to listen from a place of heart, and to act from a place of understanding. Thank you for sharing, Maureen.

    • Hi Vicki! I knew you would understand because I saw and heard you style of natural talent in that man’s conversation. Yes, moving “over there” can be so beneficial. I know this is something I struggle with – remember I blogged about the cold blind man in winter? The universe will keep giving us opportunities to practice until we figure it out.. :-) Thanks for your thoughts, my friend.

  2. Maureen, you see things I don’t see. I wouldn’t have recognized the good deed that you describe, although I see it now you point it out.
    I have on many occasions had small acts of kindness bestowed upon me, and I am always grateful. I try to give as well, but I am not brave about instigating interactions with people, perhaps because I don’t do well at reading people, so every interaction has the possibility of being a rather stupid mistake.
    When I first went away to University, actually when I was going to an interview, I took the train, and then had to get a bus. Trains are easy – the station has big signs saying where you are, buses not so much. So I asked the driver to tell me when we reached the right stop for me. I was a terrified little mouse aged 17, and he was very kind, telling me how long it would take, and pointing out the stop before, as well as my stop, and also pointing out where I needed to stand to get the bus back to the station. It wasn’t much, but it made my day much less terrifying. Little things can make a huge impact.

    • Hi Hazel! I love your addition of the perspective of the recipient – it is very helpful, really, because if we can think of this as a situation to give back what was once given to us, it can help. It is hard to recognize – and remember, we all see the world through our own lens. You are so good at helping others (I have been the beneficiary of your awesomeness) – one thought to consider is this: when we have the tiniest clue that someone might be lost or struggling, could we say, “Would you like some help?” They can say no. I did that once, an old man bent over with a heavy valise. I offered to help (which was not easy) and he said no (nicely.) But I was glad I reached out and, as Vicki said, “moved over there.” to do it. :-) I am glad the bus man helped you – it was a gift to him as well, you know. He probably felt great about it.

  3. Great story and a brilliant way of connecting it back with the basic element of being a human being – empathy. This couldn’t have come at a better time when I am on my CSC assignment, working with 13 other super talented professionals, thrown into an unknown project, in a place where no one speaks our language. There is one thing which will either make or break the relations – empathy!
    There is someone on my team, who is sharp, talented but impatient. This is causing some unhappiness.
    But the choice is with me – as Maureen told me once, “How can you make the situation effective?” And now I am working on the same. Lemme share a line with you all, which really helped me see beyond the surface. “Judge others favorably. You never know what battle they are fighting.” I read this and I am calm now!

    • Hi Khalid! Indeed – that angel man probably had Empathy (and as you know, it’s towards the bottom of my strengths profile!) And he had simple regard for the human sitting next to him. I think you can have that without empathy, but perhaps I am trying to justify my own behavior. :-) For sure empathy, and sensitivity to others, will help you and your team in Columbia!! I am enjoying your updates very much. As for your teammate…. that is hard, and perhaps slowly roping that person back in (is he or she fighting a battle within?). And know that YOU of all people (we have talked about your activator) can perhaps understand impatience, but at the same time, if it isn’t effective… well, you know the drill! Can you open up a can of Woo and nudge them in a different direction? You’re so good at that. You are so brave to be there, my friend, on such an important mission of reintegrating people who have been engaged in the drugs/gun stuff – be safe.

  4. Hi Maureen, Another post that really makes one stop and think. Overhearing someone showing such kindness really makes one conscious of whether you are showing that kind of consideration to others, and how much a small action can mean to someone else.

    But what I liked most about your post was the line about “high-class problems.” We do tend to go on about all the irritating challenges we have. It’s good to stand back and put them into a broader perspective. Wouldn’t someone less fortunate love to have these things to grumble about! Makes you stop complaining for a while, for sure.

    • Hi Barbara! I know, isn’t it helpful to have a reminder of the impact of kindness. And it’s like cayenne pepper – a little bit goes a long way! As for the grumbling – indeed – how often have I done that to you? :-) More times than I have dollars to spend. The fellow who said that to me has been high and low – it was good to be reminded that our problems are good problems to have. How’s that new appliance discussion coming along? ;-)

  5. Maureen, I can so easily picture the setting and the conversation you overheard and I would have responded in such a similar way, wanting the man to know I noticed and admired his gentle way with the young teenager. I agree, those moments are fleeting but so important and have the potential to make such an impact on a life. It reminds me of the Ted Talk that is about this very thing, Lollipop Moments. I have integrated this and this notion into my annual class presentation with our freshman seminar in my department – because, I completely agree with you, these are leadership moment opportunities and have such the potential to shape who we are, who we become. Great post, and high class or not, I hope everything comes back into balance for you soon! – Bonnie

    • Hi Bonnie! So glad to have you here!! I will have to check out the Lollipop moments talk – thank you for sharing that resource with us!

      Would love to hear how those freshmen respond to the message – do they get it? I’m sure you’re wonderful in communicating it to them!

      Balance is lurking nearby – I can feel it! :-)

      • Yes! So glad to hear that balance is lurking! If you can’t find the TED talk, let me know, I have it linked in my presentation and can find it fairly easily.

        I don’t know if the freshmen get it – I think it’s one of those things like long term investment vehicles and parenting – I have to trust that it stays with them and resurfaces at some point later in life. I sure enjoy the time spent with them!

  6. Hi Bonnie! I will reach out if I can’t find the Ted talk – I will have time to look this weekend. I really like that you view your work as a long term investment – impossible to judge in the moment, but using what you know at the time to make a difference – I a sure it pays off. Gallup has done some research on the successful colleges – have you seen it? It has to do more with having a mentor than being an ivy league school, etc. Let me know if you’d like to know more – it’s all quite interesting, and done in conjunction with Purdue university. They are lucky to have you!!

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