Being kind is something my parents emphasized when I was growing up. It not only included how I was taught to treat others, but also how I learned to treat animals. Perhaps living on a farm made the latter piece of advice so important.
Some people I know are naturally kind. It is embedded in their nature to be friendly, generous, and considerate. Leaders don’t always seem to understand this trait and the importance it represents in their work. I sometimes forget as well.
This past Friday night I was flying home to Philadelphia from a business conference in Denver and the plane was overbooked. At the gate, I took notice of an African-American family of four who looked tired and frustrated as they waited to board. Little did I know; their presence would soon be my opportunity to show some kindness.
As I settled into my aisle seat near the front of the plane, this same family stopped at the row in front of me and the father began comparing his four boarding passes to four different middle seats, including the one next to me. I could tell by his demeanor that he wasn’t happy with his seating options. Separating his entire family for a three-hour flight was not how he had envisioned things turning out.
While I frequently book aisle seats so I have more room to stretch my legs, without hesitation I offered to move to the center seat so his wife could be closer to their daughter, who would be in the middle seat across the aisle. As I fastened my seatbelt, the passenger in the window seat murmured quietly, “There must be a special reward for people like you.” I smiled and said nothing.
It hadn’t occurred to me that by being kind I was modeling what others rarely observe. My upbringing has made kindness something I just try to practice. I hold the door for patrons at my local Wawa convenience store. I smile at people I meet whether I know them or not. I offer my seat to others on a crowded plane.
As we taxied from the gate and the tired mother next to me settled in, she said, “You have no idea how much this means to me. It’s been such a long and stressful day.” She went on to recount how their short family vacation had been one bad moment after another.
First, their Tuesday flight was cancelled. The rescheduled flight involved a new layover stop and when they arrived in Mexico their luggage was lost. After more than an hour delay, they finally left for their resort only to find the accommodations were terrible and they had to move to a new venue. The luggage finally showed up late Wednesday. Then their Friday flight was also cancelled and they were switched to my plane but without options to sit together as a family. No wonder they were stressed!
As she cared for her children’s needs during the flight with greater ease from the aisle seat, I knew I had made the right choice. Being kind at that moment may have been the only act of kindness they had experienced during their challenging travels.
Leaders who think being kind isn’t important should reconsider. Studies indicate that those who practice kindness are happier themselves. Relationships will improve. Being kind even has positive health benefits.
“We often are pursuing our own interests most effectively by laying them aside and serving others,” says Stefan Klein in Survival of the Nicest.
My act of kindness did make a difference for this one family of four at the end of a vacation trip they will likely wish to forget. I’m not sharing the story to draw attention to what I did. I’m only hoping it might inspire you to practice being kind whenever the occasion requires, even if you must give up your favorite aisle seat on an airplane.
Please share your own stories of small acts of kindness by commenting on this post.
Photo Credit: istockphoto.com