Kindness…compassion….politeness…respect. All words, me and others in my generation grew up with. These seem to be rapidly disappearing from the urban vocabulary to be replaced by freedom of speech, right of way, get what’s mine. This for the most part means we’ve raised a more confident generation of independent minded thinkers that know what they want out of life and know how to get it. While this is a valuable skill to have, how do we also teach them to still cherish the old values while opening their minds to the new ones? How do we teach them that a good leader doesn’t lead with fear and persuasion, but instead with respect and kindness?
I was at the grocery store yesterday picking up my weekly quota of plain non-fat greek yogurt. Not that it matters for where I’m headed with this blog, but I felt the need to share that irrelevant detail. As I make my way down the bread aisle to get to the dairy section, I notice an older gentleman meekly standing to one side, a look on his face clearly indicating he wants some assistance but is unsure of how to ask for it. I see a few people walk past him – some notice him but look away, some are too immersed in their grocery list or texting and some simply ignore him. I love observing human nature and this here is an opportunity that just fell into my lap! Yogurt forgotten, I develop sudden interest in the gluten free English muffins a few sections over, all the time keeping one eye on the goings-on around this gentleman. I must have counted at least 6 people who walked by without offering any acknowledgement or assistance. Finally I see this well built teenager (probably on the school football team) amble up to him. I tense, ready to jump in at a moment’s notice, as I wait for the kid to deride the man. Imagine my surprise when the kid smiles a kind smile and says “Sir, did you need help with something?”. The older gentleman points to a bread on the top shelf, the kid easily reaches for it and places it ever so gently in the man’s basket, politely says “Have a great day, Sir” and moves on. At this point, I’m beyond touched, a little teary eyed and plenty embarrassed for assuming the worst of the kid. I guess being bullied in school as a child leaves its mark.
Today as I was driving home, having completed my chores, I chanced upon a mother leaving the same store as above with her 3 young children. She had 2 large bags of groceries weighing down her shoulders and her arms were laden with 2 more large brown bags. The kids were in tow…..a girl of maybe 6 and 2 little boys, 4 and 2 if I were to guess. Just as she stepped off the curb to walk to her car, I noticed her oldest go into adult mode. She held her hand out to her younger brother who in turn held it out to the youngest one. Thus a human chain was formed and big sister led them safely, following mom to their car. This is a busy parking lot, one where I drive extra carefully because I’ve had one too many kids just dash right out in front. I usually swear at them under my breath, scowl at them if they decide to hang back long enough to let me pass and shake my head at the parents. Today, I had new respect for this mom. Not once did she look back to see if they were coming along. It was a well-oiled machine setup – one you could tell she had practiced several times with her daughter. With this one move, she had taught her daughter how to be responsible and how to be caring.
Who knows if any of these kids will grow up to be CEOs or entrepreneurs. Who knows if they will ever become famous. Whoever said you needed to be any of the above to lead. Some of the best leaders are unsung heroes. They are the ones that listen, observe and help as needed. They are also just as willing to relinquish the role to follow someone else instead. I’m hoping as these two grow into adults, they are able to retain that human touch. I’m hoping there are several more such kindred spirits out there waiting to make the world a kinder place.
No matter how educated, talented or rich one is, how they treat people is the ultimate litmus test of character. Lead with kindness and it will come back to you ten fold!