A Small Act of Kindness
By Karen Caplan
Back in January, I boarded a flight from Houston, Texas, back to Orange County, California. My first business trip of the year started on January 2 and took me to Ohio, where the temperature each morning was 4 degrees. Thankfully, my gloves and thick winter coat kept me insulated from the freezing cold.
Sometimes, the dramatic change in the weather from one place to the next when you are traveling on business can affect your attitude. You know what I mean — you can be a little testy, grouchy, and not a lot of fun to be around.
Can you imagine what it must be like for flight attendants — especially during this first week of the year when non-business travelers are making their way back from their holiday vacations, and students are headed back to college, and one of the worst storms of the decade is blasting the Midwest and East Coast?
So, as I made my connection in Houston and boarded my flight home to Orange County, I did what I always do and said hello to the flight attendant. I could tell she wasn’t having a great day. Many flights had been canceled. When I jokingly asked about getting coffee, she let me know right away that she hadn’t even set up the galley yet.
Based on her response, I wasn’t expecting a lot on this flight home.
As the flight attendant came down the aisle shortly after the flight took off, I asked for her name.
“Althea,” she said.
“That’s a beautiful name!”
She then asked for my name, which kind of surprised me.
About 30 minutes into the flight, I was startled out of my reading when someone said, “Karen, did you say you wanted some coffee?” I mean, who knew my name on this flight?
It was Althea.
“You caught me off guard, Althea!” She giggled, and she had that smile on her face for the rest of the flight.
We connected just by knowing each other’s names. And that is all it took to change someone’s attitude.
How often do you sense that someone you are interacting with is having a bad day? Like a server at the restaurant, a checker at the grocery store, the person parking your car, or even a complete stranger in line ahead of you who is grouchy or grumpy. Do you check them off as being rude and act grouchy right back at them?
The next time you encounter those people, I would encourage you to stop for a moment and perform a small act of kindness. I’m not talking about things as dramatic or expensive as those “SoCal Helpful Honda People,” springing acts of kindness across the region: from giving away free pumpkins for Halloween to helping a military member get home for the holidays. (They talked about some of these acts on their radio spot. I think it’s a brilliant marketing campaign!) I’m talking about just simply treating everyone as a person. Look them in the eye, smile, say, “have a great day,” and mean it. Find out their name. Pay them a sincere compliment or thank them for their service.
These days, there are a lot of angry, grouchy people out there. People who are having a bad day for a variety of reasons — and it’s not just the weather. I do know that being kind and making a personal connection with a complete stranger can be a game changer for them and for me.
The Dalai Lama said, “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” So, why don’t we all try to be kind? Smile at everyone you see even if you don’t know them. Ask strangers their names and make them feel important.
Oh, and Althea did get me some coffee after all!
Karen Caplan is the president and CEO of Frieda’s Specialty Produce in Los Alamitos, California, a women-owned family business and leading distributor and marketer of unique and exotic fruits and vegetables to supermarkets and food-service distributors in North America.