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.

Advertisements

A Person of interest

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming genuinely interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

Image

 These famous words should be set in stone. They should be placed on every nightstand, desk, and front door in America. Dale Carnegie said these profound words in a book published almost eight decades ago- How to Win Friends & Influence People. They are even truer today.

Every act since the day you were born was performed because you wanted something. Did you ever think about that? Even those that give to charities or volunteer at shelters are getting a feeling of importance or goodwill. When I wake up in the morning I am full of selfish ambition: What do I want to do? What do I want to accomplish? What can I do to help someone else I meet today? Wait a minute. That last one doesn’t sound as familiar as the first two. It’s not. It stands out because it goes directly against all we are programmed to be as human beings. Certainly, it separates us from animals.

You may be thinking, “Enough of the “Golden Rule” talk Drew. We all know it and few of us do it. How does it help me?” I would agree. This is about you. See I have stumbled through this life just as selfish as the next guy. At the end of a long day of work I want to do something for me. I think, “I can’t wait to go out with friends. It will be so much fun, I will feel better, and I won’t be thinking about work.” Do you ever find that the event itself falls short of expectations? In other words, you’re not as satisfied or happy as you thought you would be if you did so-and-so. Here is my point. I find it’s hard to make myself happy. As two sides of the same coin- I find it’s EASY to make someone else happy. Let me illustrate.

One of my jobs is serving at a restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. I had a young couple come in for lunch the other day. As they were ordering, the husband casually asked the wife what was for dinner. She said they were having salmon; he ordered pizza and on the meal went. A week or so later, the same couple came in and sat in my section again by chance. When I walked up to them, I welcomed them back saying, “Great to see you again! I remember you had me hungry last week. How was the salmon dinner?” They were confused for a second until the wife realized what I was talking about. Her face lit up as she told me the marinade she had used, how she had cooked it, and even the side dishes prepared for her “specialty.” They both could not believe I remembered and left me a very generous tip. The two have requested to be served by me ever since.

That story is simple but there are hundreds of similar ones I could share from my own life experience, let alone others. The point of it is not the reward of a tip or a loyal customer. The point is happiness. I find it much easier to make other people happy with a kind word or gesture. I also believe this happiness is just as real as anything I could do for myself. Sometimes the best way to help yourself is to help someone else. Sometimes, for you to have a better day, try to brighten another persons. Be genuine. Be interested. Try to see the world from their point of view as well as your own. Again, this does NOT come naturally. I have to work daily to develop it similarly to a muscle. It has incredible rewards though.

I will end this train of thought with another Carnegie quote, “The world is full of people who are grabbing and self-seeking. So the rare individual who unselfishly tries to serve others has an enormous advantage. He has little competition.” Would you like an advantage in your life? I would. Practice this perspective shift on the people you meet tomorrow. Think of relationships in your life where you might not of thought about where the other person is coming from. Perform a random act of kindness for a stranger. It will all come back to help YOU one way or another. I promise. This is education of a different kind. “Most people go through college and learn to read Virgil and master the mysteries of calculus without ever discovering how their own minds function.” What we can learn from others will teach us a lot about ourselves.