Thursday, June 28, 2007

Compassion - Taking note of those around us

Earlier today, I received a touch-base from a friend of mine. It was nothing elaborate, nothing overly complex - just a "hey, how's it going / how are you doing / anything I can do to help you" kind of thing. However, his timing was perfect as I have had my brain full this week taking care of delicate but important things. His brief email brought a smile to my face and I replied that I was well but more importantly, that his thinking of me made me feel good - it reminded me of how lucky I am.

Every one of us likes to feel like we mean something to someone else. We strive for reasons to contribute to others lives as we make our way through our own busy lives. Sometimes it is important, though, for us to slow down once in a while and remember that while we are grateful for others appreciating us, there are people around us who maybe need us to reach out to them.

It doesn't have to be a long message nor does it have to be elaborate in execution. A few months back, a great friend of mine (a Services Exec in MCS) was going through a delicate, complex, significant business negotiation with a client and I knew he was having a stress filled week. At one point, I was thinking of him and saw him online and flashed a message that simply read "Hope all is well - just letting you know I'm here if you need anything - no reply necessary". He thanked me later and indicated that he really appreciated the ping of support and that it made a difference in how he executed his day. Again, nothing fancy - as they say, it's the thought that counts.

Sometimes it means taking care of strangers just because the opportunity is there. I've mentioned in the past about helping the overwhelmed lady behind the Continental counter at Newark Airport this winter past. I did that one for fun (if you don’t know the story, little ‘r’ me and I will send it to you). However, sometimes the stakes are higher and you must go with your instinct to make a difference, even if you don’t understand why at the moment.

I have shared the following story with some of you before but it is worth repeating to make a point. A few years back, I was embroiled in a large international fraud trial in New York Supreme Court. As key witness for the prosecution, I alternated between being perceived as everyone's best friend and everyone's worst enemy. I had death threats against myself and my family and I had been offered incredible bribes. One Wednesday I was driving along the highway when I received a call on my cell phone from one of the parties in the case. I wanted to concentrate on the call, so I pulled over on a local beach to take it.

For the hour that I was on the call, I could not believe how Life was so complicated and how I had allowed myself to get caught up in such a mess. During that hour, I kept noticing a lady in a red car to my left who was crying profusely, with her head in her hands.

When I was finished with the call and wondering what could make my day darker, I started my truck and drove away. When I drove about 150 feet or so, I had a feeling that something wasn't right, so I turned around and went back to the red car.

I walked over to the driver's side and tapped on the glass. Now you can imagine someone 6 foot three with dark glasses on, approaching a woman in a remote area - an intimidating situation for the woman to be sure. The lady opened the window about an inch and I asked her if she was ok. She indicated that she was fine. I told her that from where I sat, she did not appear to be fine at all. I also told her that however dark Life appeared to her at that moment, it was in fact filled with love for her and that if she could see that, she would find the way out of the darkness that she saw. She thanked me and I walked away. As I got back to my truck, I thought "Nope, that's still not good enough". I turned around, went back and gave her my name and phone number on a piece of paper. I told her to call anytime and that there were lots of people out there who could help her find the light that she needed. She thanked me again and I left.

A week later, almost to the hour, I was driving past the same spot and realized that my cell phone wasn't on. I turned it on and it promptly told me that I had a message. I pulled over and listened to the message, a message so profound that I couldn't speak so I silently passed the phone to my wife Rowan so she could listen to it.

It was a message left at 1:20 that morning. It was clear by the message from the mysterious lady I had met a week earlier, that while I had been wondering why my Life was so complicated, Lynn, as the caller identified herself, was contemplating why Life was worth living. She had been waiting for me to leave so that she could find the end that she thought would solve her problems. It appeared that my spontaneous act had interrupted plans that would have had a much darker result had I not spoken to her.

She indicated in her message that my act of compassion and kindness would stay with her forever and I suspect that she will pass this compassion and kindness on to others. When my day is difficult I replay her message to help put my day back into perspective.

My point with this story is that there are people all around us who need something from us, an unrequested but necessary action to make a difference in their lives (and ours too, we just don’t know it at the time). Maybe it's a kind word to compensate for a rough day. Maybe it's stepping up to take the kids for a bit to give a spouse a break. Maybe it's that random act of kindness to a complete stranger that has an impact down the road in ways that you may never know.

Tim Sanders tells a similar story that happened to him as a result of a presentation that he made. Here is his story on YouTube.

The bottom line is this. While we need to feel loved, respected, appreciated and all of that good stuff (and may get agitated, angry or sad if we don’t' receive it in the quantity and quality we desire), remember that many people around us are feeling the same. Perhaps in order to receive more, we need to give more. The old adage "the more you give, the more you will receive" holds true in this case.

Norman Macewan once wrote "Happiness is not so much in having as sharing. We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give." This quote, when lived at its most fundamental level, is profound.

I wish you all a wonderful July 4th holiday. The spirit of independence which we celebrate also empowers us to make a difference to others. Let's make sure we exercise that right as many times as we can. The world is in need of it.

Take care and create a great day.


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