Because You Can

I have spent the last month traveling all over the country and will do the same this month as well. In the hours I have spent in crowded airports, stark hotel rooms, and local eateries, it is only my interactions with others that have mattered. Frankly, only a few of the hundreds of conversations with strangers have mattered in the past month. Let me tell you about some of them.

In Minneapolis my flight to Kansas City was delayed, ensuring I would miss my connection home. I really wanted to be home to celebrate Father’s Day with my husband and children. In fact I had specifically scheduled 18 hours in Orlando to do this, but engine trouble stood in my way. As I stood trying to explain my troubles to the gate agent, she shook her head and told me there was little she could do. Another agent was standing nearby and overheard our conversation. I could almost see a light come on in her head as she realized what she could do. By booking me on a later direct flight she managed to get me home in time. As if that kindness was not enough, she waived the change fees, and taking one look at my six foot height, booked me into an exit row at no charge, ensuring a little extra leg room as well. Five minutes of conversation changed my entire trip and turned my frustration into calm. She did it not because I asked, but because she could.

In Alabama I was settling into my seat to take a short hop to Atlanta on my way home. To my right was a uniformed member of our military. Before she could even buckle her seat belt, the flight attendant came back and informed her that a passenger in first class had offered her his seat. As he settled in next to me, I took note. His designer shirt was sharply pressed, and he wore cuff links. I smiled when the flight attendant gave him his tiny bag of peanuts while I could see far more elaborate snacks being served in first class. I couldn’t help myself when I asked him what had prompted him to make this choice. His explanation could be summed in a few words. He made a hard life a little better, even if it was only for an hour or two. He had nothing to gain and did it because he could.

If you have even been on the campus of the University of Central Florida you know it to be a sprawling city of grass, parking lots, and sidewalks that serve 30,000 students. The buildings are all of the same brick and the paths are not well marked. As I walked along in the blistering Florida heat, I had nothing but my poor sense of direction and a Xerox of a map to guide me. I stepped off the sidewalk to try and orient myself and was not there but ten seconds before a student stopped to ask if I needed help. Of the dozens of people that passed me, he took that moment to direct me, gaining nothing in the exchange but my thanks. He turned my hot, frustrated moment into one of understanding and confidence. And he clearly did this only because he could.

As I reflect on these moments, I offer some questions. Do you notice kind moments around you? Please tell me about them! They are not as common as we’d like, but they do happen. Take note when someone is kind to you, is generous with time or resources!

Do you do anything just because you can? We all have the opportunity to pause for a few minutes and make someone’s life better. Our simple kindness can change someone’s moment, hour, day, week, or perhaps even more. We talk so often about how we can be more effective as leaders in our businesses. I would suggest that our simple kindness is also leadership, for we show others that there is another way.

Our lives need not be filled with disconnected rudeness and anonymity. There is a way to make a difference every day, in a thousand small moments. What will you do today, not for gain, but just because you can?