Pay it forward

I tapped my foot impatiently while the Bank of America teller went to get her supervisor.  I looked around at the marketing, annoyed with every keyword: policy, useful tool, statement, transaction, protection and valued customer. “A couple smiling faces and people will buy anything,” I thought. As the teller walked over, an old woman came bustling up to the counter, skipping the line.

“Can someone help me? My car is stuck and I can’t get out!” She glanced back and forth between the teller and the supervisor. They stalled, probably considering if this fell under their job description. Florida hospitality- gotta love it.

“I’ll help you. Show me your car,” I said as I left my spot in line and followed her outside. Her car was in the middle of the parking lot, a cement block from her spot stuck underneath. It looked like the steel rods that should secure the block to the ground were sticking up about 8 inches. She had driven her wheels up the block and onto the rod when she had parked and now it was vertically locked in her wheel well. Onlookers shook their heads and some asked if they should call a tow truck. I simply told her to turn the wheel to the left. Then I picked up the back end of the block and flipped it on it’s side so the rod was horizontal and shimmied it out from under her bumper and back to the parking spot it belonged to. It took about 5 minutes but the effect was profound. The older woman gave me a big hug, an onlooker made a remark about how nice I was, and when I walked back into the bank, the supervisor told the teller to give me everything I need. “One good deed deserves another,” she remarked as she walked away. I disagree.

We’re all familiar with the concept of Pay it Forward but I find one major flaw in this thinking. The idea is predicated on another cliché- an eye for an eye. If someone treats you with goodwill then you should give that goodwill to another and on down the line it continues. But where does it start? I believe (and correct me if I’m wrong, I often am) Newton said an object in motion stays in motion until it encounters an equal and opposing force. Can this be applied to human relations? Who gives the first push? How often do we give without expecting ANYTHING in return or getting something first? You may have heard that there is ‘No such thing as a free lunch’ and, if my economics teacher taught me anything, it’s true. Someone always has to pay. As a Christian, I’m not afraid to tell you that I believe Jesus paid the ultimate price for my sin. He also had some thoughts on how people should treat each other. He summed it up in just a few words- do onto others as you would have others do onto you.

Some of you just checked out mentally. You may have stopped reading at the word Christian or definitely Jesus, if you made it that far. Your mind recognizes Christian and thinks of all previous associations or stereotypes or hypocrites you’ve seen to claim this identity. You might see the Golden Rule and turn off because you think there is no new learning here. Many of us, myself included, go into the “I know, I know, I know,” mindset. We shut off. This is perfectly normal by the way but I have a small challenge. STOP DOING IT! It’s annoying. The great Ralph Waldo Emmerson said that, “every man is better than me in at least one way- in that I can learn something from him.”  For just this week, see if you are actually treating people how you would like to be treated. To me, it seems the more I do this; the more chances I’m given to show it. Give without expecting anything in return. Be kind even when others are mean. Base your actions and words on the type of person you want to be and not the current circumstances. It will start to solidify into something you can be proud of and something others will want to emulate. I will end with another Carnegie story that hopefully emphasizes this point. The story has to do with a genuine compliment that Carnegie paid a postal worker about his wonderful head of hair. As he shared the story in public later, a man asked him what he was ‘trying to get out [the worker]?’ This is Carnegie’s response verbatim:

“What was I trying to get out of him!!! What was I trying to get out of him!!! If we are so contemptibly selfish that we can’t radiate a little happiness and pass on a bit of honest appreciation without trying to get something out of the other person in return- if our souls are no bigger than sour crab apples, we shall meet with the failure we so richly deserve. Oh yes, I did want something out of that chap. I wanted something priceless. And I got it. I got the feeling that I had done something for him without his being able to do anything whatever in return for me. That is a feeling that flows and sings in your memory long after the incident is past.”  (How to Win Friends and Influence People, p95)

I can’t promise any profound change or insight because of the thoughts I’ve put down here. I only hope to be a reminder that life isn’t fair and neither are people, but you can be. You can stand apart by your conduct, your principles, and your character. Sometimes you just have to change your thinking or put it into action. To the banker, I thank you for your help but I disagree with your conclusion. One good deed doesn’t deserve another but rather encourages another. If you want to make people scratch their heads, treat others, down to the bums on the street corners, how you would like to be treated. That attitude, if shared, can generate ten times the momentum of Pay it forward because the good deed is only the outward expression of an inward change.

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People are going to let you down

Have you ever been let down by someone? How about someone you consider a very close confidant? How about family? Most people would answer yes to one of these questions and if you’re like me, all three. Today, I want to share a simple story about how three examples from my past taught me about the imperfections of people.

I have an amazing family and an amazing father. In 7th grade, my class was asked to write a one page paper on a “Hero” in their life. This person could be historical, an athlete, or even a mentor. I wrote my paper about my dad…and so did four of my other friends. During childhood, my dad was my baseball and basketball coach, Boy Scout leader, and best friend. He even took me and my brother out for a weekly ‘Special Breakfast’ where we just talked about what was going on with girls or school or anything else on our minds. He also wanted me to know all about chivalry with girls and doing the right thing in tough situations. I can remember three such times he was looking to show his son that doing the right thing, although hard, always pays off. All three backfired.

The first of these opportunities appeared during a baseball game. Baseball was my favorite sport but my coach that year had made it a living hell. During a game that was particularly frustrating, I gave him a piece of my mind and walked off the field into the parking lot. My Dad stopped me and after a talk, made me go back and apologize to my coach. The second time was during a Boy Scout meeting when this tool of a ‘leader’ came down on me out of favoritism to his own kids. I went OFF, calling him and his sons a joke among other expletives and walked out. Again, my father came and got me and made me go back inside and say sorry. The final instance happened at school under very similar circumstances. I ate the proverbial humble pie once again. I say that all three backfired but not on me. They backfired on my Dad. All three of the men that I, as a young boy, apologized to, lashed out at me even with even more severity. They poured into me with things like, “You better be sorry! You should be ashamed of yourself! You obviously were not brought up right and are headed for more failure.” My Dad was shocked. He went back in each instance and told them what kind of an example they were showing that a sincere admittance of wrong gets you in the world. As a child, I watched with delight as my Dad stood up for me. Now, as an adult, I think of the true lesson hidden between the lines of these instances. People aren’t perfect.

My Dad thought that these men would show me that saying sorry is necessary when we screw up. Instead, I learned that the world isn’t fine tuned to some explicit moral code of conduct. I learned that people screw up because we’re all human. I had to re-learn this principle later on when, as a senior in high school, I saw my Christian parents go their separate ways. Our family fell apart. A comment from my younger brother helped me during this: “When I stopped looking at mom and dad as parents and more like people, I forgave them. I understood that they’re just as human as you or I and have their own lives, their own worries, and their own choices to make.” I assure you, both of my parents have let me down since that time and my dad did very recently. It’s why I’m writing this now.

People deal with this in different ways. I hear girls say, “All guys are a@#holes! I’m never dating again.” I hear about examples of families where resentments or grudges have kept siblings and parents apart for years. I hear about individuals who have been so hurt once, they will never let anyone else in. How many close confidants do you have in your life? Want to guess what the most common answer is, according to a 2012 study? ZERO. I disagree with all of these options. People can be just as  wonderful as they can be mean. They can be encouraging, generous, outgoing, courteous, thoughtful, considerate, motivating, and sympathetic influences on our daily lives. BUT! Lets not forget that each and every one is human. Prone to mistakes. Programmed to think of themselves first and others second. If this doesn’t sound familiar, just go find and a mirror because De-Nile ain’t just a river in Egypt.

Just like recycling, it starts with us as individuals. You can be sure that when I have a little kid say, “Thank you,” I return it with a smile and, “Your welcome.” I even go out of my way to compliment him in front of the parents on his wonderful manners. I’ve heard that when you have kids, the way you raise them will either be the same as your parents or the exact opposite. I was blessed with wonderful parents! Even though they let me down at times, I’m reminded that we’re all human and if I want to see a change in the others behavior, that starts with my own first.