Baby boomers, how do you measure the simple act of kindness?
A woman baby boomer from California recently received a letter from Sweden.
She was puzzled and intrigued as she walked into the house looking at the postmark and return address. She could not think of anyone she knew living in Sweden. The sender’s name seemed only vaguely familiar at first. What could this be about? Who could this be from?
When opened, the letter delivered impact.
Once upon a time, approximately 25 years ago, the woman was a graduate student at UCSB. She would work out every morning at a gym on the way to the lab she worked in on campus. While in graduate school this woman did not have a car. She relied on her bike to get to the gym — and to campus.
She also enjoyed longer bike rides on weekends for fitness and fun, so she had splurged on nicer bike.
Each morning after arriving at the gym, she would be greeted by a kind young man named Simon, who worked behind the front desk.
Simon noticed over time that this USCB grad student struggled to lock her bike in front of the gym in a secure way. The front wheel was designed to pop off easily, making it easier to steal the bike (if not locked up a certain way) which took much longer and wasn’t easy with the type of bike rack they had at the gym.
Simon went out of his way to help her, allowing her to bring her bike inside the gym, which was technically against the gym’s policies. As a fellow fitness and cycling enthusiast, Simon respected that she used her bike as her sole transportation, regardless of the weather. Simon had a kind and caring nature, so he often reached out to help her. Sometimes he even gave her some of his own cycling accessories to make her daily commutes easier.
Simon never expected anything in return.
Well, the woman was so touched by his kindness that just before she moved to start a new job, she left him a heartfelt thank you at the front desk, letting him know how much she appreciated his kindness and thoughtfulness; that his kindness and caring had made her life easier giving her encouragement.
The woman from UCSB never saw the kind man from the gym afterwards.
Well it turns out that one day, many years later, while going through old boxes, Simon pulled out that thank you card from the woman he had helped at the gym. Somehow he had not been able to discard it — in fact, he had kept it with him through multiple moves to several different countries over more than 25 years.
Somehow he tracked down this woman's current address and wrote her a letter. Thus, as you might guess, this man’s act of kindness had made an impression on the woman, and she in turn was happy to know that her expression of appreciation had meant something to him as well.
After reading the letter from Simon, the woman expressed that it had reinforced her longstanding belief that you never know what impact a seemingly small act of kindness might have on someone — referring both to the initial kindness she’d received from Simon and to the sincere note of appreciation that she’d taken the time to leave for him.
Maybe we need more kind acts now.
A president once looked out of his window and wondered, "Why are we so divided, as a country?" That President was Abraham Lincoln. The historian Doris Kearns Goodwin could share with us what Lincoln was probably thinking during those grave days of the Civil War.
Former Speaker of the U.S. House, Newt Gingrich, also a historian in his own right, speaks today about a divide of a different kind — a cultural divide. Both in Lincoln's time, and now in President Trump's time, we live in a country where kindness often seems to be at a premium. In today’s world, everyone seems to think that they are right, and that the other person is wrong. Socrates, Aristotle, and Plato believed in the power of persuasion, by which you would advance your idea through intelligent discussions or debates —and by expressing constructive thoughts. Where is that thought pattern in today's America?
Three critical factors are missing in today's political discourse: civility, the ability to listen, and yes, kindness. We are living in an America where hate speech is prevalent. We reside in a nation where we do not look for common ground, rather we seek to destroy an opponent at any cost.
It's so difficult to write this as a baby boomer. Our generation is the product of John F. President Kennedy’s influence, as well as what our parents told us about the legend of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Many boomers spent years trying to climb the corporate ladder.
Our generation witnessed the Reagan Revolution.
Thus, those of us born between 1946 and 1964 are generally an optimistic bunch.
A baby boomer recently said that he was rooting for President Trump. The person he was speaking with asked, "Why?" The boomer’s answer was, "because I am rooting for the country."
This is not a column about political position, but rather an article about how we, as Americans, have to begin rooting for each other. We need to give a little more support to each other, and gossip less behind each other’s backs.
We need more smiling upon encountering other people; a little less of the critical commentary about others on social media. A baby boomer once told a political science professor from Ohio State University that politicians are a reflection of the population they serve.
So if we are looking for better political discourse, maybe we should start with treating one another better.
The man in Sweden from the story at beginning of this column had no ulterior motive when he helped the UCSB student so many years earlier, or when he recently sent the letter to that same woman now living in a different part of California.
He was simply trying return an act of kindness from many years ago. That sort of action is what makes a society worth living in. As baby boomers, we are an optimistic group — so don't stop believing, don't stop making a difference, and don’t stop forwarding your ideas.
Just try to do it in a way such that when you put your head on the pillow at night, you will be proud of what you have done.
Rick Bava founded and was CEO of the Bava Group, which became the premier communications consulting firm serving the Fortune 500 community. Bava became known for his popular blog columns "Rick Bava on the Baby Boomer Generation." He is the author of "In Search of the Baby Boomer Generation." For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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