Because You Can
July 7, 2011
TopicsActions, Character, contributing members, influence, Inspiration, Leadership, motives, Responsibility, Self Development
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?
“Because we can”, a sentence which I first heard coming out of a joke few years ago gained new meanings into me through similar experiences.
It was not just me being the “star” of the show, there are also numerous people doing amazing things in a disinterested manner, making others benefit from their kindness just because they can, and sometimes it even cost to them though it didn’t matter to them.
I do think it’s not just because we can, it’s also because we want!
Thanks for this article…
I definitely see your point, and it does make me think. I think there are often unexpected and maybe even delightful benefits to being kind. Perhaps these results do make us want to do more kind things, even if nothing comes of them, they are not “cost effective” and we are not even a “star.” I hope we can at least direct our efforts knowing they do not always have to result in short or long term benefits to us. Is it enough just to be kind?
On another note, I wonder what you think about how we actually work to increase acts of kindness. Why do some people act in this way without thought while it never occurs to others?
Why do we act that way?
When disoriented in an unknown city or town, which happen quite often… 🙂 I welcome locals, even foreigners, helping find my way. So I find it normal to do the same when they visit known territories. Same goes with any kind of difficulty or challenge I could help others solving in my area of influence.
In my personal case, it came from a life choice I made when a teenager. Of course, there are influences and circumstances which eased my decision though it has to come from within. Relating positively to others, even unknown, is one of my way of being human.
Perhaps it is indeed a matter of people making a conscious choice. It is true that a lot of the good in this world is a matter of acting consciously and deliberately. Let’s hope more people move in this direction! Thank you for your comments this morning!
Deb, I appreciate your thoughtful, challenging posts. Leadership is a character-trait, or maybe a bundle of them. You describe that so well as you write your thoughts.
I realize you’re traveling again today, so we’ll all be watching for comments on this post. I wanted to publish it rather than wait. We can all see what thoughts others share in response. Thanks again for a great post.
Thanks Mike! I love the opportunity to highlight some of the positive and wonderful things that go on in the world. Too often I hear people lament about all the terrible news. They ask, “Why does the media focus on all the bad? Did nothing good happen today?” I think good happens every day. People are kind to us and we are kind as well, but it is so rarely acknowleged. Just today a friend once agani gave me a forum to speak on the internet. I am grateful!
Love it, love it, love it! You inspired me to do more! Because I CAN!
Thank you Thomas! Woo hoo! I hope you’ll come back and tell us how it goes!
The world is not nearly as dismal as it seems when we stop long enough to notice such acts like you write about in this post. And more importantly, when we step aside from the false perception that we are the center of the universe. Such an act opens up opportunities like the inspired examples you shared.
Good share! Good reminder.
You are absolutely right Shawn! What I loved was these acts didn’t cost a dime, took only a little time, and no return was expected or really possible beyond thanks. But each event had impact, more than could really be foreseen. And more than the giver probably knows. That’s my real hope. Maybe we are kind never expecting return or knowing the outcome. It’s a gamble based on hope. Deal me in!
Thanks for your kindness, Shawn!
Deborah, this was a very insightful and interesting post. It may also point out that when you are looking for opportunities to do good, you will most certainly find them. And when you find them, you need ACT right away because the opportunity is fleeting. In each of your examples, there was a split second where the good citizen could take action or not, and without much hesitation they did. Thanks for observing and, more importantly, acting.
You are absolutely right. Time is often of the essence. We blink and the opportunity is lost. Perhaps this is why acts of kindness do not happen more often. We look away, become distracted, or forget to act consciously and before you know it, the moment is lost.
Thanks for a really, important insight!
I love the stories, Deb. They warm my heart. Thank you so much for sharing them, simply because you could! And also thank you for reinforcing that we can find joy and gratitude in common and inconvenient moments.
I think part of helping “because we can” is many times in the hurry of our day, we don’t “see” each other. I know when I do have the opportunity to help because I can, I am fulfilled by the gratitude I see in the receiver’s eyes, but also bemused a bit because there is also there is an astonishment – which I can only guess is astonishment that they were seen. I like surprising people like that. And am sad that it is not more common.
I can totally see your point! In the hurry of life, there’s is plenty we don’t see. I think this astonishment you mention is so real. I know I am stunned when people do kind things for me out of seeming nowhere. I often wonder, what did I do to deserve that? (We think that when life deals us an unexpected blow as well I think. What did I do to deserve THAT?) Our world is so often cause and effect. We believe we get what we deserve. But is its also wonderful to get a good surprise, and I think even better if we can give one!
Thanks so much for pointing out our need to see each other, to take note. It comes back to an earlier discussion of being counscious and deliberate. You hit this nail on the head!
Great post! It’s hard, sometimes, to be aware of these opportunities. If I were having travel drama, or wandering lost on a college campus, I might miss the chance to help someone else. It’s a lesson in the Bhuddist concept of practicing non-attachment, I think. By stepping back from our own suffering and observing those around us, we get more chances to alleviate their suffering. Thanks for the post!
You know, Lissa, I never even thought of that. Caught up in my own problems and drama, I might very well have missed an opportunity to return the favor or at least pay it forward. I was so grateful to have my own problem solved, that I may well have been blind to the drama of the next person in line or in the seat behind me, something I might have assisted with. Keeping perspective is so vital in life. I often have to remind myself that no matter how bad my problems are, someone else has it so much worse, and I wouldn’t trade places for a minute. Thanks for taking my thought processes one step further here and helping me think about this in a better way.
Lissa, thanks for the reminder about non-attachment and realizing others have needs despite our own drama. All good reminders shared today.
Deb, congrats for penning such a thought-provoking post! Mary
🙂 Thanks Mary!
Thanks for this post. I agree 100% and strive to be that “person” that takes your breath away with kindness and simple compassion. Not giving money to the poor (although that is part of my brand of compassion, too) but the everyday, greet your fellow man – make eye contact – SMILE and be thankful for your life brand of compassion.
It is coming back and I’m leading the way.
Thank you for your thoughts and more importantly, your deeds. I wish more folks had the commitment you discuss. I wish you well and appreciate your kindness.
Thank you for this wonderful post. In this day of constant negativity, it is a delight to read about kindness and consideration. You have made my day.
Thank you for stopping by and commenting Pam. I am happy to report that since I wrote this post, I have been the recipient of many more kindnesses and have even found a way to make a little kindness for others. I hope you find the same in your days. Have an awesome week!