Kindness in Zurich is just like kindness can be at home

I don’t even know the name of the kindest woman I have met in a long time.

Zurich is a tale of two cities. It is the modern banking center portrayed in books and articles. It is also a baffling medieval town that feels more like a rabbit warren than a modern, hip city.

Fondue makes Zurich proud and we were told of an excellent, traditional restaurant the Old Town area. Our taxi driver was not so nice and kind. He dropped us off on a main street and pointed into the confusing tangle of streets and said, “It’s in there.”

We assumed that cryptic instruction meant we could follow the street straight ahead of us and find our dinner. Not so much. We went straight, then we turned and we turned again. My wife and I are not afraid of asking directions. Asking does not guarantee anybody will care, or know what we were asking. The language barrier made it difficult, but most people gave us the “I can’t be bothered” shrug. The English speakers who bothered to listen to our plea seemed to know less about Old Town than we did.

Then we stopped a woman who was walking fast and with purpose. She struck us as a knowledgeable resident. We were wrong. She did not know the restaurant we were seeking.Yet, she didn’t blow us off. She concentrated, furrowed her brow and finally said, in halting English,”No, I just don’t know.” She then continued on her way. After about 15 steps, she stopped and turned back toward us. By then she had pulled out her phone and she had apparently made a mental commitment to help us.

I’d like to think the kindness fairy or our guardian angel tapped her on the shoulder. More likely, her innate goodness took over and she decided she was not in as much of a hurry as she thought she was. Her phone, however, did not equal our immediate rescue. The directions she found were confusing. She decided they were far too difficult to explain. Thankfully, she did not try.

With her phone in hand and incredible kindness to strangers in her heart, the woman, who probably had a score of things to do that early evening, guided us gently through the nooks and crannies of Zurich’s old town. The walk was probably only five minutes. If we had been left on our own it might have taken five hours.

We reached the front door of the restaurant and the woman flashed a smile of triumph as if she had just climbed Mt. Pilatus. We thanked her profusely and her smile confirmed she was incredibly pleased she could help. She walked away with a bounce in her step and a smile on her face. Kindness made her feel good and rescued our evening.

We will never see her again, but I won’t forget her.

Tim J. McGuire is the author of “Some People Even Take Them Home.”

Only we are going to fix our problems, one volunteer at a time

We all know bad stuff and good stuff happens to people. But our reactions to those things often differ.

Many people live their lives in gratitude for all the good things they have.  Other people tend to downplay the good things in their life and constantly lust for more. And there are people who have a great deal, clamor for more and are convinced they are smarter, better looking and more talented than the people who have less. Barry Switzer and Jim Hightower are credited with saying “He was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.” I always credit that quote to my youngest brother, David, but the point is many view good things as something they earned.

People who deal with bad things often accept that bad stuff happens and they just need to roll with the punches. Others need to blame someone such as God, their rotten parents and/or the government. Those carping complainers shake their fists at this cruel world and fault everyone except themselves. Just this past weekend I said some reckless, insensitive things to a couple of close friends. There were no excuses to be had. I was a jerk plain and simple. I apologized in a text and will rely on forgiveness and our longtime friendship to heal the problem. People who can’t own their screw ups  fail to accept the truth. As my insightful wife, Candace, declares so eloquently, “our troubles are usually an inside job.”

I recently read an article that contended that a tremendous number of Americans believe authoritarian behavior is the answer to our challenges. The author wrote, “Authoritarianism, by which I mean Americans’ inclination to authoritarian behavior. When political scientists use the term authoritarianism, we are not talking about dictatorships but about a worldview. People who score high on the authoritarian scale value conformity and order, protect social norms, and are wary of outsiders. And when authoritarians feel threatened, they support aggressive leaders and policies.”

That frightens me. I like some order as much as the next guy, but I do not believe our problems are caused by a vengeful God, parents or the government. I believe some people live dangerous lifestyles, don’t pursue enough education, refuse to embrace technology, but mostly I believe good things happen in this world and bad things happen, just because. To quote Forrest Gump “It happens.”

I especially refuse to believe that there is some giant hand in the sky or a  commanding government that can erode civic liberties and fix everything. I am reminded of a great ongoing Saturday Night Live bit performed by Kenan Thompson during the Great Recession several years ago. Thompson would rant and rave at some invisible force he called “they”  and scream “Fix It, Fix it, Fix it.” Nobody ever appeared from the ether to “fix it.”

I reject fear, authoritarianism and hate as viable “fixes” to our country’s problems. I subscribe to Gandhi’s famous admonition,If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.” That has been popularized as “Be the change you want to see in the world,” and it is the only way we can improve things.

My wife Candace was so distraught over the refugee ban this weekend she went to church and sponsored a Mexican child for more more money than was asked. She took action to change the world for the better. Two of my dear friends volunteer for that program, Casa Franciscana Outreach at our church. They give countless hours to a program the improves the lot of people in Guaymas Mexico. Another friend of mine has spent years finding guardians for struggling children in his small Michigan town. Another friend spends hours sitting with and talking with hospice patients to relieve the burdens of their loving caregivers.

I, and you, know thousands of people like these who don’t rail at the condition of the world, or blame God or the government. They do something themselves to fix our society.

All of us pulling together to extinguish fear and hate strikes me as a better solution to whatever ails us.

 

 

Do the kind thing and don’t worry about gratitude

There is a meme running around Facebook that goes like this: “Have you ever gone out of your way to help someone and then find out how ungrateful they really are?”

I suppose it is a harmless expression of frustration, but it really bugs me. That’s really a self-destructive attitude and it’s mighty selfish. You did a nice thing and now you expect a parade? Good luck.

My late dad actually taught me that years ago. He would tell my mom and the kids, “do the nice thing but don’t sit around waiting for thank yous.” My dad wasn’t a great philosopher but every now and then he absolutely nailed it. When we get upset because somebody wasn’t grateful enough we give them control over our happiness and our goodness. And, your motive for being nice gets thrown into question too.

For me there is a tangible joy I get from doing the nice thing. Oh sure, I enjoy a hearty thank you and occasionally some recognition for the nice things I do, but I am working hard on not needing that. More and more I try to do silent acts of kindness.

Four or five times a week I have been buying coffee for the car behind me at the drive-thru Starbucks. Just because. It’s only a few bucks and I often jokingly tell the barista, “I need the good karma!” I make it a point not to linger or look back, to be sure I don’t do it for the acknowledgement.

It is nice when it comes. The other day I bought a $2.27 coffee for a guy. He apparently violated a speed limit or two because he caught up with me and hoisted his cup in a happy, appreciative, toast.

I thought little of it until I got to my office. I was a good 20 feet from the door when an exiting student stopped and held the door for me for several seconds. He went way out of his way to do the kind thing. Karma?

I didn’t know the young man. He had no duty to do the right thing. He didn’t hold that door for the thank you. He held the door because it was a nice thing.

As I walked away from that encounter with a little glow, I could not help but think about all the anger we see in the world and wonder if  being nice could help.

Perhaps we all need more good karma. Maybe we can find it by doing the nice thing and not getting pissed when people don’t bow down before us in gratitude.

Tim J McGuire is the author of “Some People Even Take Them Home” A Disabled Dad, A Down Syndrome Son and Our Journey To Acceptance

 

 

We can learn important life lessons from how companies treat their clients

I have had several encounters with businesses trying to serve my needs recently. I think I came away from those encounters with new insights about how we ought to treat people.

Over the weekend at my wedding, Pittsburgh Blue, a wonderful Minnesota restaurant, and a catering company called Fabulous Catering, dramatically exceeded my expectations and delivered a tremendous customer experience. The rehearsal dinner at Pittsburgh Blue and the reception catered by Fabulous, were wonderfully executed by committed staff and people who genuinely cared for clients.

Last week, in Phoenix, my new wife and I were ignored and made to feel as if we were the business’s last priority. It was pretty clear that the Phoenix business had internal problems and challenges that were more important to them than the customer’s needs.

As I have reflected in the last few days, it is clear to me that the Minnesota businesses made us number 1 and they were totally invested in creating a positive experience. They understood that a marriage is a very big deal and that their companies were not just catering events, they were building lasting memories. They behaved accordingly. They were outwardly focused.

The Phoenix company was dealing with a very sensitive issue for us. In our minds, our case was the most important in the world. The Phoenix company did not act as if they recognized that. The company representative acted as if her needs trumped ours.

My close friend, Pat Dawson, actually consults on customer experience. This is a major line of inquiry for companies attempting to raise profits through better relationships with customers.

My interest in this subject is different and more personal. I wonder how many of us really attempt to appreciate that the person we are dealing with is totally focused on their own predicament and they want our help to escape. Many of us complain that “she is totally focused on herself,” or “he only thinks about me,me,me!” What part of that surprises us?

We do the same thing, yet we often expect others to put aside their own self-interests. Many of us have been taught the golden rule, to treat others as we would want to be treated. But there’s a serious problem there in that many people do not share our expectations and standards. A more appropriate approach is to treat people the way they want to be treated.

That sort of thinking allows us to meet the other person where they are. It recognizes that their fears, and uncertainties are real to them even if you find those fears silly. If we treat people the way they want to be treated we validate them in ways we cannot if we cling to our own rules and expectations.

Tim J McGuire is the author of “Some People Even Take Them Home” A Disabled Dad, A Down Syndrome Son and Our Journey To Acceptance