First Important Lesson
"Know The Cleaning Lady"
During my second month of college, our professor gave us a pop quiz. I was a conscientious student and had breezed through the questions, until I read the last one: "What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?" Surely this was some kind of joke. I had seen the cleaning woman several times.
She was tall, dark-haired and in her 50s, but how would I know her name? I handed in my paper, leaving the last question blank. Just before class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward our quiz grade. "Absolutely," said the professor. "In your careers, you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say "hello." I've never forgotten that lesson.
I also learned her name was Dorothy.
Second Important Lesson
"Pickup In The Rain"
One night, at 11:30 p.m., an older African American woman was standing on the side of an Alabama highway trying to endure a lashing rainstorm. Her car had broken down and she desperately needed a ride. Soaking wet, she decided to flag down the next car. A young white man stopped to help her, generally unheard of in those conflict-filled 1960s. The man took her to safety, helped her get assistance and put her into a taxicab. She seemed to be in a big hurry, but wrote down his address and thanked him.
Seven days went by and a knock came on the man's door. To his surprise, a giant console color TV was delivered to his home. A special note was attached. It read: "Thank you so much for assisting me on the highway the other night. The rain drenched not only my clothes, but also my spirits. Then you came along. Because of you, I was able to make it to my dying husband's bedside just before he passed away. God bless you for helping me and unselfishly serving others."
Third Important Lesson
"Remember Those Who Serve"
In the days when an ice cream sundae cost much less, a 10 year-old boy entered a hotel coffee shop and sat at a table. A waitress put a glass of water in front of him. "How much is an ice cream sundae?" he asked. "50¢," replied the waitress. The little boy pulled his hand out of his pocket and studied the coins in it. "Well, how much is a plain dish of ice cream?" he inquired.
By now more people were waiting for a table and the waitress was growing impatient. "35¢!" she brusquely replied. The little boy again counted his coins. "I'll have the plain ice cream," he said. The waitress brought the ice cream, put the bill on the table and walked away. The boy finished the ice cream, paid the cashier and left. When the waitress came back, she began to cry as she wiped down the table. There, placed neatly beside the empty dish, were two nickels and five pennies. You see, he couldn't have the sundae, because he had to have enough left to leave her a tip.
Fourth Important Lesson
"The Obstacles In Our Path"
In ancient times, a King had a boulder placed on a roadway. Then he hid himself and watched to see if anyone would remove the huge rock. Some of the king's wealthiest merchants and courtiers came by and simply walked around it. Many loudly blamed the King for not keeping the roads clear, but none did anything about getting the stone out of the way. Then a peasant came along carrying a load of vegetables. Upon approaching the boulder, the peasant laid down his burden and tried to move the stone to the side of the road.
After much pushing and straining, he finally succeeded. After the peasant picked up his load of vegetables, he noticed a purse lying in the road where the boulder had been. The purse contained many gold coins and a note from the King indicating that the gold was for the person who removed the boulder from the roadway. The peasant learned what many of us never understand - "Every obstacle presents an opportunity to improve our condition."
Fifth Important Lesson
"Giving When It Counts"
Many years ago, when I worked as a volunteer at a hospital, I got to know a little girl named Liz who was suffering from a rare and serious disease. Her only chance of recovery appeared to be a blood transfusion from her 5-year-old brother, who had miraculously survived the same disease and had developed the antibodies needed to combat the illness. The doctor explained the situation to her little brother, and asked the little boy if he would be willing to give his blood to his sister. I saw him hesitate for only a moment before taking a deep breath and saying, "Yes, I'll do it if it will save her."
As the transfusion progressed, he lay in bed next to his sister and smiled, as we all did, seeing the color returning to her cheeks. Then his face grew pale and his smile faded. He looked up at the doctor and asked with a trembling voice, "Will I start to die right away?"
Being young, the little boy had misunderstood the doctor; he thought he was going to have to give his sister all of his blood in order to save her.
The previous set of lessons are ones which are fairly well traversed online, and have graced the pages of countless emails and blogs over the years. The author is currently unknown, and probably lost to time and reprinting countless times. Unlike other repostings, however, I'd like to take a look at these lessons and explain how they each have had an effect on my own life throughout the years (even before I knew about these lessons).
Know The Cleaning Lady
I've had the pleasure of meeting many wonderful people in my time, from high end corporate executives and CEOs of major companies, and even prominent musicians with albums and tour buses. While I was visiting one of my musician friends in between his tours, we were relaxing at his home on the lake and just chatting about what sorts of things he was working on currently (as it turns out he was doing some editing for his next album). It was a fun time, and I watched his tour DVD from his last tour, and saw all the fans waiting in huge lines to come see him and his band.
After the evening had waned, and he retired, I began to think about how life tends to work in strange ways. Here was this guy who was a high profile musician and a celebrity in his own right, coming from a family who was always out on international business or vacation. And there I was, sitting with him as a friend, drinking fine wine, and enjoying the evening... you could say the high life for what it's worth.
The next morning, after we had woken up, he was already downstairs with a cup of coffee and at his laptop doing more editing, and sending out emails to the band... swapping music tracks for the editor program, etc... but there was something else I immediately noticed where he had seemed to be oblivious to: The cleaning lady.
It was a lazy Tuesday morning, and the cleaning lady had let herself in quietly and had begun to clean the house, top to bottom, starting with the kitchen. Loading and running the dishwasher, scrubbing the floors and counters, etc. Of course, I had wandered into the kitchen to grab some coffee and in the process I set my coffee cup on the island counter in the kitchen and struck up a conversation with the cleaning woman.
With Tom in the dining room working on music tracks and editing, I figured a good conversation was in order for the morning. Interestingly this caught the cleaning woman off guard, apparently she was used to being ignored in that household while she went about her work.
Her name was Linda, by the way, and she was a wonderful person to talk with. Very down to earth, a little rough from the blue collar work, but nonetheless a very pleasant person.
That moment turned into a recurring ritual between us for quite some time, as we'd laugh about Tom in the corner buried in his work and completely oblivious to the cleaning lady. Having the entry code for the house at the time, Tom had told me to come over whenever I felt I needed some time to get away. A few occasions I did actually take him up on the offer and the conversations the cleaning woman and I had were outstanding.
Now that I think about it, I don't believe it ever occurred to Tom to associate with the cleaning woman, and on a few occasions he would ask me what I was up to, and would be confused when I would tell him "Just chatting with Linda in the kitchen."
"Linda who?" He would ask me.
"Linda, your cleaning lady." I'd reply.
Pickup in the Rain
This is a simple matter of having some sort of empathy for others. Well, that and a healthy dose of faith in humanity as a whole. I know there are stories about axe murderers roaming the streets and such, but just put that aside... suspension of disbelief. On the whole, people are good and that is something you need to acknowledge.
The world won't be a better place until we all begin to trust each other just a little more, and to have a bit of empathy for others. So when you see somebody on the side of the road walking, have some sense to pull over and ask if they need a ride. It doesn't matter if they are hitchhiking or just walking along.
The idea here is to put yourself in their position, which is something most people ignore these days. If you were walking along the road to wherever, and unless you were obviously walking for the point of walking (exercise), wouldn't it be nice if somebody offered you a ride?
Our lives are full of hustle and bustle these days, and we quickly forget to look up from it all and pay attention. Now would be a good time to start thinking about somebody other than ourselves for once, and to instill that in our children going forward.
Remember Those Who Serve
It's no piece of cake, I'll tell you. Whether you are a waitress in a diner, or a person in military uniform, your job is rough and the sacrifices you make are great. I've known quite a few waitresses in my time, personal friends and even my own mother when I was growing up, and being on your feet all day and working for tips plus the measly wages they provide is rough. They have to put up with obnoxious customers, screaming children, and bosses who don't give a damn - not to mention other waitresses they work with who get an attitude.
While this isn't the case all the time, because there are nice people involved quite often, it's nice to run into a truly delightful batch of customers who have a bit of empathy for the people who are serving them. Sure, maybe the food came out like crap, but that's not the waitresses fault... and even if we say the cook messed up, let's take that empathy a little further and put ourselves in their shoes... trying to make up dinners for a room full of people who are impatient and demanding. You know just how hard it is to make up a full dinner for your own family (or else why are you eating out?), so imagine how hard it is to make up full dinners for twenty families to order.
In the end, the lesson I take home from this is that we need to relax a bit. Maybe the food is taking forever to come out, and maybe you've been waiting for 45 minutes. Maybe the waitress is in a foul mood or has an attitude. But that doesn't mean we should drop to their level and mimic their negativity, because that's not going to solve anything. If anything, that will just make their day worse and drag you down with it.
No... the entire point of going out to eat was to spend some time out with family or friends. So if the food is taking longer than you expected, then remember why you went out in the first place - to spend time with family or friends. Enjoy that time!
If you're a waitress, just remember... some people do have some empathy for you and understand how your day has been. Some (like myself) even go so far as to understand that your life in general may be a wreck and you may be having issues outside of work which are dragging you down. Relax... take a deep breath... and continue.
I liken this to when you are in school. Have you ever noticed that you never really put much thought into the fact their your teachers are normal people like yourself and have real lives outside of that school? Maybe they're married, or dating... they go out to eat and have a good time, they might have children or even grandchildren. Heck, they even have sex just like normal people would (and maybe not so normal depending on the person).
We have a hard time visualizing people and their entire lives, and often remain limited in scope and understanding for those people. Maybe it's the idea of the monkeysphere where we have a hard time thinking of people outside of 50 close interactions as actual people. I would suppose then that is why a single death is a tragedy and a genocide is a statistic.
As a planet, we need to change that.
Obstacles in Our Path
It's often all too easy to brush off an obstacle in our path, or complain that it's somebody else's job to move that obstacle for you. For the vast majority, we tend to put it off and pass the buck whenever possible, taking the easy route, but for the peasant in this lesson, they happened to have a bit of empathy for others and enough determination to change the situation.
Boulders do not move themselves (at least when we want or need them to), and the only way they are going to move is if somebody is willing to take the time to try. When there is an obstacle in your path, will you be the one to move it or will you just be one of the people who ignore it or blame it on somebody else?
Of course, you should also remember that timing is everything. There is always a time now and again when the answer will be neither to ignore the problem or try to change it, but instead to wait. I believe that is the hardest lesson to learn of all, and the hardest to enact because it requires a great deal of patience which is something the world is losing exponentially in a digital fueled rat race of technology.
Giving When It Counts
Let's make one thing clear - I'm not against organized charities. They do a lot of good on a broad scale and should totally be supported. However, I believe that in order to do good on a more meaningful scale, you will have to be willing to roll up your sleeves and face the problems personally.
How many homeless people do we have on the streets today? People hungry and destitute. Their entire lives broken and shattered. Maybe they're on drugs, maybe they spend life in a drunken haze. The real question is not what their problems are, but how often you bothered to actually care.
We're back to that monkeysphere idea again. None of those people even register as actual people in your mind. You don't know their names, you don't know what happened to them, you don't know anything about them other than that they asked you for money on the streets.
And nine times out of ten you walked right by.
I'm not saying that they wouldn't use that money for drugs or alcohol, and I'm not saying either that they will go and get some food or clothes to help themselves. What I am saying, however, is that it isn't your choice to make on their behalf to judge them for decisions that are not yet made.
People are ultimately good, despite the wickedness and evil. You need to have a bit more faith in humanity and trust that people are ultimately good. Because if you cannot have faith in humanity, then you have no faith in yourself, and that my dear readers, is a very bad place to be.
Sure you can give donations to charities, but that is a very hands-off approach. It's sort of like passing responsibility to somebody else just to ease your mind that the situation will be solved. You're washing your hands of it, essentially. Give when it counts, and make it personal. That level of empathy and sincerity makes you feel good about yourself... that you are actually doing something to make a difference in the world.
Giving when it truly counts, is what distinguishes you from just a faceless nobody to a person who really does give a damn in this world.
In the end, I would rather live in a world where people like you truly did give a damn, and broadened their understanding outside of that personal monkeysphere long enough to see the big picture.
This isn't about your country... this isn't about your beliefs. This is all about the fact that we are a species who live on an insignificant speck in the universe, alone. All we have is each other, and we can't even treat each other right. If there are higher forms of life in the universe, chances are they are waiting to see that level of compassion and empathy from us as a whole before they will even bother to say hello.
Imagine yourself to be an outsider looking in at our planet. See how we treat each other, the same species. Fighting wars, killing, stealing, not trusting each other. We have no empathy for others, we have no concept of "other" and what exactly that entails. We're caught up in our own delusional lives, ignoring the universe, and everything around us.
I believe we need to truly change to be a better planet, and these five lessons are a good beginning.