Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Kindness of Strangers

I've been described as an eternal optimist who sees the best in everyone and everything.

Of course, I realize that humans can be territorial, selfish, competitive, dishonest, and mercurial, but I never let that bother me.

A few days ago, I was dropping off recycling at the Natick recycling center (has a special bin for styrofoam) and found it closed so I tried turning around in its unplowed driveway.  My Prius got stuck.   A Natick city employee drove by in a plow and told me that I was stupid for trying to drive there.   I asked for his advice/help but he told me I must have failed driving school and got back in his plow to watch me struggle.  Upon freeing myself, I drove to the Sherborn recycling center and the Sherborn city employees helped me empty my car and even told me how to properly recycle styrofoam in Sherborn.  It restored my faith in humanity and I'll never recycle in Natick again.

Last week I wrote about mushroom cultivation.    To help me figure out how best to layout my growing area, I emailed a local farmer, Leo Mondragon and his wife Marie.  They helped me immediately and offered to drop by my property to offer more detailed advice.

This Thursday, I'll write about my efforts to name the various topographic features (forget-me-not marsh, bluebird meadow, old cart path etc.) on Unity Farm.   A few weeks ago I walked the Connecticut property described in Edwin Teale's A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm.   At the bottom of the Audubon map of Teale's home, I noticed the name Bob Breau.  I emailed him for advice on creating trail maps for Unity Farm.   He offered to help me do it and will be visiting in March.

I've found similar kindness in the business world.   When I have a question about a tricky policy or technology problem, I email the people with experience.  90% of the time I get a helpful response.

Of the 1500 emails I receive every day, generally 100-200 are people seeking advice, which I answer by sending an article or relevant blog post.  If I cannot answer the question, I forwarded it to someone who can.

By helping those who need my advice, I believe my Karma improves and increases the likelihood of a response when I need the kindness of people I do not know.

This weekend I visited my parents in Los Angeles to help my father at home after his recent hospitalization. During each retail interaction I had (Home Depot for sprinkler repairs, Pacific Sales for a new refrigerator, Ralphs for groceries), I shared that I was visiting from Boston to help my parents with home maintenance.   Each clerk offered me special discounts and extra assistance.

Although there are days when life feels like a Dilbert cartoon, a page from a Steven King novel, or a chapter of Catch 22, I remain impressed that it is still possible to find the kindness of strangers.  The economy has its ups and downs, the planet is struggling with too many people competing for few too resources, and politics around the world make tasks harder than they need to be.

However, the kindness of strangers is one thing that is up to us.  I chose kindness when managing my dogs and today during my many meetings, I'll chose kindness even in those less than pleasant encounters that involve debates about resource allocation, priority setting, or service levels.    Anger and emotion may win the day, but kindness wins over the long haul of life.


Anonymous said...

I'm one of those who have emailed a question to you and you promptly responded with helpful suggestions. I thank you and promise to pass this kindness along!

Anonymous said...

This is the most uplifting article I've read in quite some time! Given your approach, I think your Karma is going to be just fine :-)

Anonymous said...

people around us are at various stages of realisation,unfortunately many of them have not moved to the level that befit them to live in an civilised society which calls for compassion,kindness,and feeling of concerns for fellowbeings.
As the eastern philosophy says it will take many lifetime possibly for the ripenings of these qualities or some personal experience to drastically alter their present stage.

Dr_SteveA said...

Unfortunately I've been on "both sides of the plow" - the unhelpful critic, esp. when tired. And the doctor willing to help people who have made poor decisions.

Anonymous said...

Be kind, for whenever kindness becomes a part of something, it beautifies it. Whenever it is taken from something, it leaves it tarnished.