Amicable Allegory #8: The right place at the right time

Have you ever had the feeling that your day worked out  exactly how it did  for a very particular reason? Like, when you forgot your coffee one morning, and found your stove burner still turned on when you went in to retrieve your drink? I like to think these are little ways God (or angels or spirits or the flying spaghetti monster) looks out for us, keeps us safe.

Well, I think I just had another one of those moments. My husband and I drove into NYC for the first time yesterday. Usually we take the train, but we have to go to Brooklyn in a few weeks by car, and wanted to do a “dry run” of the journey. Normally I would have tuckered out halfway into the drive (cars make me sleepy), but for some reason, I drove the first few hours without a problem.  We pulled into a rest-area to trade-off driving and fuel up. Even though we had to stop at the food plaza, I drove right past it to the fuel pumps without thinking. There was no lanes to return to the plaza, so while Jake pumped the gas, I ran in and used the ladies room, and when I returned, Jake ran in to use the men’s room. As I sat there waiting for him to come back, an older woman (I’m guessing late 60’s or so) asked me “Is there an attendant around? Do you think they check tire pressure here?” I told her I doubted it, but up ahead there was an air pump, so she could fill up her tires there. Dismayed, she said, “I have no idea how to do it. I just have a light in my car that says the tire pressure is low.” Without hesitation, I replied, “Well, when my husband gets back to the car, we can help you with the tires. We have a tire pressure gauge.” She was elated and very grateful, and I was equally happy we were there to help. When Jake returned, he quickly filled her tires (they all needed 10 pounds of pressure–good thing she stopped) and I chatted with her while we waited. She was impressed us “young people” were so helpful, and I said, “Oh, that’s just how I was raised,” and told her about the Be Nice. project. She asked for my contact information, so I gave her a pamphlet and postcard along with my information. She took me into her arms with a warm, joy-filled hug, and then took Jake’s hand and pressed something into it, thanking us heartedly. We told her no thanks was necessary–we were just happy to be of service, but she insisted we take what she gave us, no arguments allowed. It was a twenty dollar bill.

Jake and I were blown away by her enormous generosity and gratitude. She had said to us, “Not many people would have helped me, or even paid attention.”  And I thought, “Some people might have even taken advantage of the situation by swindling her or demanding money.” Jake and I were simply happy to help, without a single thought of a reward. The twenty dollars was an unexpected ( and unnecessary) bonus, and it got me thinking. [I’m not meaning this impending thought-stream in any negative way toward our wonderful new friend on the thruway. It just made me wonder….] Wasn’t there a time when people used to help others in need without expecting anything in return? I swear it was like that when I was a kid. Often a proper show of gratitude was a warm smile, a hug or a hand shake, an invitation to dinner, or a thank you note. But today, it seems like repayment or rewards are expected, and the standard currency for gratitude is money. I wonder how that came to be? Is an “I’ll do something, but not for nothing” mentality prevailing in our culture? (This mentality sounds a lot like the attitude, “I’ll give them a wedding gift, but only because they invited me to their party and they’re feeding me.”) Or, is the good feeling of doing what’s right not enough for some people any more?  There was certainly a time when a monetary show of thanks was unnecessary, possibly even offensive. But nowadays, there are people who feel resentment when they are not given “proper”, equivalent, or reciprocal thanks (i.e., a similarly priced gift, an invitation to an equally lavish event, or a monetary reward). What changed?

There are millions of people in the world who do give for the joy of giving, who help strangers because they like to do it. But what saddens me is that there are a large number of folks who give, but with an agenda or an expectation of similar repayment. When did we start keeping track of who-gave-what’s and who-owes-who? And can we find a way to free ourselves from that thinking? Because it costed me nothing but a little bit of time to help that fantastic woman, and it felt so great to know that God put me in just the right place to be able to do it. For me, that was worth more than anything.

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Clean, heated water

I bet a lot of you were asked, or thought about, what you were grateful for this time of year. The turkey, the pie! Family, friends, a job…. Personally, I’m thankful for clean, heated water every morning. So nice in the winter months and many aren’t so lucky. But whatever we are thankful for, our minds collectively and very quickly (say, by 4 AM on Black Friday) turn to what we don’t have, what we want, and what we expect to get in the next 30 days.

I suppose it is only natural to think of what we want. I remember my childhood bedtime prayer: Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, guide me safely through the night, and wake me with the morning light.   But my mother also included a section in our night-time prayers for what we were thankful for, which always followed our requests: blessings for our loved ones, friends and neighbors. It seems to be a habit, a mindset: be grateful and you might be more likely to get what you ask for. Not bad logic really. It’s better than just expecting to get everything and being thankful for none of it.

But I have an idea. Let us extend  the “grateful for’s” this season. When we sit this December perusing the aisles, looking over websites and magazines, cultivating lists of desired items that we may or may not need, let us keep a steady thought on just everything we do have. Think of all the loved ones which surround us who care enough to give a gift this year. Think how lucky we are to have the income to buy frivolous things. Think of the privileges and comforts we have in our society that many communities in the world struggle to attain. These are things to be especially grateful for not just one day out of the year, but every day of our lives.  

© Be Nice. Creator and Be Nice. (somethingsonice.wordpress.com), 2008-2009.

A little surprise can brighten a day

Love notes on the fridge

Little notes filled with amorous words

My honey and I recently got hitched. It was a pretty great time, and we were blessed with a huge amount of family support. One of my favorite things was the advice that I was “showered” with for my bridal shower. All my aunts and grandmothers wrote me little tidbits of advice for a long happy marriage. My grandparents have been together for 55-60 years each. My aunts and uncles, 30 or so.

What was great about the advice was the surprise that my husband and I already do some of the things. A few times this year, I’ve been taken away on trips–one for business, one for family. We spend a lot of time together, as we have worked with one another (so to speak) for three years. When I left both times, I had the opportunity to slyly leave Jake little notes for him to find later.  A note in the coffee can, one on the TV, one on the computer, in the shower, on the fridge. Each one said something different–something sweet, cute, funny, and dirty (of course!). It was fun for him to find all the notes while I was gone–especially when one was evading him even upon my return! 

Love love love

Lots of ways to say it

Little things like that show a person you are thinking about them. Thoughtful notes now and again, out of the blue, can really strengthen a relationship and keep it fun and interesting. Who knows what a well-placed and cleverly timed note could do for a marriage? 

© Be Nice. Creator and Be Nice. (somethingsonice.wordpress.com), 2008-2009

Amicable Allegory #7: Lost, found, returned

My last post, “500 bucks richer for a poor person is related to this post, except that this post is a more positive version of the subject!  (On a side note, thanks to Autumn for her comment requesting more positive entries. Though it is my aim to promote positivity, sometimes I go about addressing positivity by deliberating on how I can handle less positive interactions. Thank you Autumn for the reminder that all things are good–in balance. So, on with the positive!)

Yesterday, I was picking up some items at the mall conversing (as always) with the sales ladies about random things.  One of the women told me of a day when she found a wallet in a parking lot with a moderate amount of money in it. She Facebooked the guy and arranged to return it to him, she told me.  I was so impressed–and encouraged, especially after the $500 woman last week! I asked the sales lady then if the man had given her a reward or anything.  She said “No, but he was a student and I bet he didn’t have much to spare. — But the next week I was on campus and I found a 100 dollar bill on the ground!  I thought to myself–this is what good deeds get you!”  I have to say, I totally agree! Wouldn’t it be great if that happened to all of us! 🙂

Have you ever been so focused on what you’re going to do next that you don’t pay attention to what you’re doing at that moment?  My friend had gone grocery shopping one afternoon this summer and returned all the way home with her thoughts on the tasks awaiting her there when she realized she had left her purse in the cart in the parking lot!  In a panic she flew back to the supermarket, all-the-while thinking of what she had in her purse that could be stolen or misused.  She quickly walked to the customer service desk, anxiety growing in her mind. She budged in line (I imagine this was a pretty justifiable budge!) to ask after her purse and there it was, everything in tact!  She asked who had left it, but the worker said the woman had not left her information.  Thrilled, relieved, and grateful, my friend walked slowly back to her car wondering how she would ever thank the person for their kind deed.  That evening, she placed an ad in the local paper, saying simply, “To the kind woman who found my purse and returned it, thank you!” What I love about this story is that not only did someone do the right, kind thing, but my friend went out of her way to thank them for it, even when she did not know who it was!  Kind deeds become a little more special with a hardy “thank you!”

 

© Be Nice. Creator and Be Nice. (somethingsonice.wordpress.com), 2008-2009.

Paying it forward

Have you ever seen that movie, “Pay It Forward” (with Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, and Haley Joel Osment)? Excellent film. I watched it years ago (it was released in 2000) and it was truly inspirational.  A very brief description of the film is that a young boy tries to change the world through direct action by creating the idea of “paying it forward.” He decides that he will do three nice things, and when those people thank him, he then asks them to pay it forward to three more people. This rule thus creates a domino effect of niceness.

I highly recommend that you watch this movie, or at least embrace the spirit of the idea. I think of it often, especially when nice things are done for me–such as my friends Heather and Derec helping me move last week. They were incredibly selfless of their time and their energy (especially when you consider the number of heavy books I have!). After something generous like that, I try to send that positivity out through my own actions–both to new people and to repay the people who were first kind to me. I like to think too, that the more positive actions you implement, the more positive deeds you will receive, so it is worthwhile twice over. Try it out and pay attention to how this change in behavior affects your day!

 

© Be Nice. Creator and Be Nice.(somethingsonice.wordpress.com), 2008-2009.

Challenge: “Follow-through” style courtesy

Absentminded courtesy is commonplace in our society. How many times have you done this: 

Walking down the stairs at work, you see a colleague coming up the opposite direction, and you say,  “Hey, how are you?” without stopping to hear his/her response. 

It was your way of saying “Hello” right? Neither of you probably bothered to give or hear an answer because it was not expected.  There’s nothing wrong with this practice, but why not change it up? Here’s a good challenge:

Just for one day, follow-up your “How are you’s” with another question. It could be, “Is it supposed to rain today?” or “Is your work day going quickly?” or,  it could be, “Wow, you seem rushed. Anything I could do to help?” It could also be, “Did you cut your hair? You look different.” Anything will do. What it tells the person opposite you is: someone caresYou cared enough to connect with him/her past the typical “Hello’s” and “How are you’s” that are usually met with absent-minded (or inaccurate) responses. And that makes you pretty darn terrific!

Bonus: you will be amazed at the exciting new things you learn or the way it will make you feel. I recommend taking on this challenge when you don’t have a crazy schedule. You might find yourself in some lively, unexpected conversations that slow you down (worthwhile I promise)!

 

© Be Nice. Creator and Be Nice.(somethingsonice.wordpress.com), 2008-2009.

Take the time, Make the time

Confession: I was a telemarketer for a few years back in high school. Don’t hate me! It was that (in air conditioning) or flipping burgers in a hot kitchen. I wasn’t a great employee I suppose–I always ended up chit-chatting with the people rather than selling the product. But I learned a few things from it:

Many of the people who I spoke at length with were elderly folks who, for whatever reason, were home alone most of the time. They wanted to share and talk and have a lively conversation with someone.  I was happy to talk with them too–I learned a lot from their stories.

Looking back, I always wish I would have listened better to stories my older family members told.  I would have asked more questions too. But I am changing that now when I talk with others. Everyone (not just our older family and friends) needs someone to listen to them, someone to relate to. And when we are capable of giving that gift, we should do it (there are times when we can’t put ourselves out there–and that is okay).

Imagine what we might learn from a stranger, or an old friend. What kinds of new conversations it would bring! I wonder how dulling romantic relationships might become re-energized with these kinds of discoveries, all from just listening and sharing things we assume the other might have known. My mom’s feet would still hurt her if she hadn’t shared it with my aunt, who then told Mom that her arches were probably falling. It’s amazing what we discover, and how we benefit, when we share. 

So, take the time to share. Take the time to listen. Take the time to gain a new perspective. Make the time to refresh old and worn out assumptions. It’ll do wonders. Sometimes people need to talk, and we all need to be willing to listen. One day, it could be the other way around… better have some good karma coming our way.

 

© Be Nice. Creator and Be Nice. (somethingsonice.wordpress.com), 2008-2009.