73. A teacher extraordinaire.

My wife Gimalle is somewhat fanatical about recycling which means that every week when we do our grocery shopping, we drop off the collection of recyclable items we have collected.

We usually visit the same recycling spot which is conveniently located right behind the supermarket we regularly frequent. This site is somewhat of a gathering ground for several of the local street people, all of whom are extremely polite, friendly and helpful in offering to assist us with offloading our recycling.

In preparation for a visit to the recycling location we always separate beverage containers as these folks can exchange them for cash at the local bottle depots.

As Gimalle is continually on a de-cluttering spree we often have household items or clothing which we happily donate to these same folks.

I have come to recognize several of these people and we usually engage in a brief conversation while I am putting my recycling into the various bins.

There is one man there whose repeated behavior has often caught my attention. His name is Doug and he stands out from all the others.

Several months of brief interactions with Doug have enabled me to patch together a rather spotty understanding of his life.

He has lived on the streets for more than 17 years. I don’t know the details of his descent into street life but I do know that both drugs and alcohol played a factor in landing him on the streets and keeping them there.

He has, sadly, come to believe that his addictions are irreversible and has, consequently, spurned all offers of assistance and rehabilitation.

Doug does not believe in panhandling and survives by doing odd jobs in the neighborhood and by working extremely hard at his day job of bottle-picking.

By his own admission Doug spends the majority of his meager earnings on drugs and alcohol and, “if there’s anything left after that I might buy a sandwich.”

His nights are spent at the various shelters around the city and the daylight hours are committed to roaming the streets, head down, looking for bottles or anything else of value.

Sadly, Doug is one of an estimated 3,000 people who make the streets of Calgary their home and are kept there by a vicious cycle of poverty and addiction.

But Doug is not unhappy with his lot in life. In fact, he has a mission.

His mission is to make sure that all his friends have what they need to survive.

Each time I have given Doug empty bottles or other items he has immediately taken them over to his friends and given them away to those “who need them more than I do.”

On a few occasions I’ve had the opportunity to speak with some of Doug’s friends and, without exception, they all speak of his generosity.

They’ve told of Doug taking the last few pennies of change out of his pocket and giving it to a friend to buy a sandwich even though doing so meant Doug would not eat that day.

They spoke me of him taking off his jacket on a cold winter day and giving it to someone whose jacket had been stolen.

They talked of Doug taking his entire stash of bottles – the result of an full day of hard work – and giving it to a newly arrived street person so that person could get a few dollars and buy a meal.

When I questioned him recently about his generosity he explained that he views his role here on earth to be that of a caregiver and that the hunger pangs he often experiences are overridden by the look of joy on a person’s face when he gives them the means to obtain a meal for themselves.

He pointed out that his heart feels it is being torn out of his chest each time he sees a fellow street person struggling to survive and he feels it is his raison d’être to give them the shirt off his back.

Sometimes all that means is sitting with a friend and comforting them when they become overwhelmed by the harshness of their circumstances.

Doug is always available to help and asks for nothing in return.

He epitomizes The Habit of Kindness and Caring, often at great cost to himself.

One of his friends described him as “a man who has nothing and gives everything.”

I have spent much time thinking about Doug. He is living evidence that material poverty is in no way connected to the richness of our souls.

An ancient Buddhist proverb reminds us that “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

Doug is such a teacher.

Now, if only the word had more ready students.

Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.

P.S.My book Life Sinks or Soars – the Choice is Yours now has its very own website. Please visit us at  www.lifesinksorsoars.com  and let me know what you think.

My company, Strategic Pathways, recently introduced our newest Personal Coaching experience called Set Free the Champion Within. Please click here and take a peek at our Ebrochure

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72. Kindness is its own reward.

A few weeks ago I was sitting in a local Starbucks waiting for a friend when I heard a gentle voice behind me.

The voice exuded kindliness and comfort.

“Hello,” the voice said, “I couldn’t help but notice you sitting by yourself in the corner and you look like you’re having a really bad day so I thought I would ask if a cup of coffee would make you feel better?”

It seems a young lady was sitting at the table behind me. I had not noticed her when I arrived.

What followed next was quite extraordinary.

A sad, pained voice acknowledged she was having a really bad day.

There was a brief conversation and the lady walked over to the counter, returned with two coffees in a cardboard tray in one hand and a bag of goodies in the other.

“Well Hon, why don’t we girls take advantage of the beautiful weather and go sit on the bench out there and have a little chat, shall we?”

My friend arrived just in time to hold the door open for them as they headed out into the sunshine.

I shared with him what I had just witnessed and we spent the entire 45 minutes of our meeting alternating between social chatting and staring at the two ladies on the bench.

Just as we were leaving I glanced outside and noticed the young lady affectionately hugging her bench-mate as she stood up and, with a pleasant smile on her face, strode off across the street.

The other lady was still sitting on the bench as I walked by and I felt compelled to stop and talk with her.

I asked her what had driven her to approach a perfect stranger and offer coffee and comfort which, from my observation post inside Starbucks, was much needed and greatly appreciated.

Her story touched me deeply.

Several years ago she had been sitting by herself in a small, dank hospital waiting room. She had just been told that her husband of 16 years, her best friend and confidant, would not survive the impact of being struck by a drunk driver while in a crosswalk.

She was numb, her mind struggling to comprehend the enormity of what she had been told while her body slowly shut down.

She couldn’t think clearly. She felt like she was caught up in a bad dream from which she could not awaken.

She didn’t know what to do or  who to call. They had recently moved here and had yet to establish any friendships.

She doesn’t remember how long she had been sitting there before she became aware of someone sitting beside her and placing a gentle hand on her arm.

She recalls looking at the kindest face she had ever seen. And she will never forget the first words she heard out of that gentle man’s mouth.

With a sweet smile he said, “You look like you could use a cup of coffee so I brought you one.”

He continued. “If you want to talk, I have all the time in the world. If you want me to go away, I will leave and if you just want to sit together and say nothing, that’s fine too.”

She opened her mouth to respond to the words just poured out; the story, the tears, the fears, the pain, the anger – everything.

And he didn’t say a word. He just listened and occasionally reached over and handed her a fresh Kleenex.

Sometime later a doctor came and took her to a small office where she was told her husband had passed away.

She asked permission to see him and shortly thereafter made her way back to the lounge where she had left her coat.

He was sitting there waiting for her with a fresh cup of coffee.

And he sat with her for several hours until she felt ready to go home. When they said goodbye he gave her a piece of paper with a phone number to call you be if she needed anything or just wanted a “huge pair of ears to talk into.”

She never saw him again but when she went back to the hospital several weeks later to retrieve some of her husband’s possessions she asked the staff who he was.

His wife had been a patient for the past six months. She had been in a coma ever since falling down a flight of stairs while leaving a movie theater.

Her husband, the kindly gentleman, visited her bedside every day and sat holding her hand for hour after hour gently talking to her, telling her how much he loved her and how he was looking forward to her coming home and doing all the things they’ve always enjoyed doing together.

And whenever he left her side and encountered another person in distress he always offered comfort and company for as long as needed.

She learned he has spent many an hour just being there as a kind and caring source of comfort to strangers trying to cope with devastating loss.

Her life had been changed by one man who, in the hour of her greatest need, offered kindness and comfort simply because he cared.

She vowed to do the same.

It is her mission to perform a random act of kindness every single day. Sometimes it means buying coffee for a stranger, sometimes it means paying for a senior’s groceries at the store and sometimes it means simply offering “a huge pair of ears to talk into.”

As she was leaving she told me that as much as she knows her acts of kindness benefits others, she has become the greatest beneficiary of her kind deeds.

She explained there is no greater reward than the feeling of fulfillment that comes from simply helping others or just merely being there for them.

It has become her raison d’etre.

She walked away and I realized I didn’t even get the name of one of the greatest teachers I have ever had.

She taught me the importance of adopting a habit I had never even thought of, The Habit of Kindness and Caring.

I know I will never be able to impact as many people as she has, but I also know this; I am going to try my hardest.

Imagine if we all did this.

Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.

 P.S. My book Life Sinks or Soars – the Choice is Yours now has its very own website. Please visit us at  www.lifesinksorsoars.com  and let me know what you think.

P.S. My company, Strategic Pathways, recently introduced our newest Personal Coaching experience called Set Free the Champion Within. Please click here and take a peek at our Ebrochure

71. Flexibility makes for endless possibilities.

A lady named Joan called to remind me that a series of blogs on The Habit of Flexibility would not be complete if the focus remains solely on flexible behavior.

She reminded me that there is a need for flexibility at a much higher level than we have previously discussed – the need for flexibility of thought.

And I believe she is absolutely right.

No discussion on The Habit of Flexibility can truly address its importance if we fail to include the need for expanded flexibility over our thinking.

All too often we become so singular in our thoughts that we will not even entertain the idea, or open ourselves up to the possibility, that there may be different, or opposing, viewpoints that are as valid as ours.

Earlier this week I watched with detached amusement the controversy that was stirred by the NFL drafting its first openly gay player and the resulting response.

My own view on this matter is that he’s gay, so what?

I respect the rights of those who view the world differently to express their opinions with the same freedom as those as anyone else.

The point around adopting and incorporating The Habit of Flexibility into our everyday thinking is because very few of those things that we uniquely and individually believed to be true are borne of fact.

By fact, I mean that those viewpoints are irrefutable, indisputable and agreed-upon by all.

I don’t know whether it is right or wrong for one to be gay but I do know that from a strictly fact-based perspective – as defined above – no one else does either.

Certainly we are all entitled to our beliefs and our opinions and The Habit of Flexibility in no way suggests that they are incorrect. It exists as a means by which we can hold our beliefs up to disparate possibilities and perhaps, in so doing, can expand our thinking beyond its present state.

Cognitive dissonance is defined and understood to mean the excessive mental stress and discomfort felt by people with two or more opposing beliefs, thoughts or ideas at the same time.

For people who do not embrace The Habit of Flexibility, cognitive dissonance won’t enter into their lives as they will not even allow for the possibility of exploring thoughts ideas and beliefs that in any way may differ from their own.

Witness the ongoing debate on abortion that is taking place presently in our country. Large groups of people on both sides of the disagreement adamantly insist their argument is the right one, the pure one and the only one. They will not entertain opposing thoughtsfrom the other side.

Inability to embrace The Habit of Flexibility can only serve to make the potential for compromise or resolution more distant and less likely.

When Joan called she clearly knew the importance of, and need for, this discussion and I’m grateful that she steered me in the direction of addressing this very important topic.

Regardless of our own internal beliefs, I hope we all embrace The Habit of Flexibility as a way of perhaps not only settling all of our differences but also for increasing our understandingof the viewpoints of those foolish enough to disagree with us.

Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.

P.S. My book Life Sinks or Soars – the Choice is Yours now has its very own website. Please visit us at  www.lifesinksorsoars.com  and let me know what you think.

My company, Strategic Pathways, recently introduced our newest Personal Coaching experience called Set Free the Champion Within. Please click here and take a peek at our Ebrochure

70. Groceries must be bought on Thursday.

Our discussion last week on the Habit of Flexibility brought a spate of calls from readers anxious to share some of their stories. The one that most got my attention was from Edna, a lady who called to talk about the difficulties of her childhood in being raised in a household where every action was determined by her “always angry, extremely controlling” father.

Edna said her father determined how everything was to unfold and allowed absolutely no deviations from his plans.

Dinner was at precisely 5:45 every evening and “Heaven help any of us kids if we were even one minute late in being seated at the table.” Her mother frequently bore the brunt of her father’s displeasure if for any reason dinner was not ready in time for the 5:45 deadline.

Flexibility was not a word in her father’s vocabulary and certainly not in his demeanor. Everything had to be done his way on his schedule and on those occasions when his demands were not met he would explode in fits of rage while reminding everyone how he solely was responsible for their well-being and would then spend days pouting.

So inflexible was her father that he would not even entertain the possibility of altering his routine even when to do so would have brought him great pleasure.

Edna told me with some sadness in her voice, of the time a family friend showed up unexpectedly at their house on Thursday evening with an invitation for her dad to join him at a hockey game.

Her father was a huge hockey fan and was about to eagerly accept his friend’s invitation when he remembered that Thursday evenings were spent doing the weekly family grocery shopping. Her mother pointed out to him that the world would not end if just this once they did the shopping the following evening so that he could enjoy the game with his friend.

Her father would not budge. Thursday, not Fridays, were for grocery shopping so he politely declined his friend’s kind offer and dragged the entire family off to the store, all the while rambling on about the importance of strictly following routines.

Her father died several weeks prior to his 45th birthday and Edna remains convinced to this day that his early death was the result of the constant rages brought about by his absolute inflexibility in any and every aspect of his life.

The Habit of Flexibility – being willing and able to try different things, have varying schedules and, generally being open to other possibilities – was something that her father could just not wrap his head around.

Edna explained that she fully understands the need to be disciplined in our endeavors to achieve good results. Where she struggles is with understanding how her father could confuse discipline with rigidity.

She looks upon her father as a great role-model for being precisely what she did not want to be. The lessons she learned from observing his behavior have stood her in good stead and taught her the importance of incorporating The Habit of Flexibility into all aspects of her life.

And she will tell you her life is far richer for doing so. She has travelled extensively, dabbled in “many fascinating careers” taken carefully thought out risks and generally created a life for herself and her family that can only come from a willingness to “carve little in stone and write everything with a pencil.”

Edna’s story is a powerful validation of The Habit of Flexibility. Adopting this habit provides all of us with the opportunity of expanding our thinking and the willingness to explore endless possibilities.

Oliver Wendell Holmes once said “One’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.”

Can’t argue with that.

Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.

My book Life Sinks or Soars – the Choice is Yours now has its very own website. Please visit us at  www.lifesinksorsoars.com  and let me know what you think.

P.S. My company, Strategic Pathways, recently introduced our newest Personal Coaching experience called Set Free the Champion Within. Please click here and take a peek at our Ebrochure