Is doing the right thing good enough?
I’m not sure which business or professional industry this falls under. Maybe all. You can decide for yourself if it applies to your profession or if it’s just a parallel or inspiration that helps you identify and define your character.
I’ve always thought that ‘remaining teachable’ is a good quality to have. Maybe it falls under the category of ‘humility’ which is a quality that I’ve always strived for.
A little slip of paper is taped next to the switch on my bedside lamp. Handwritten, is the question,
“Did you leave this day better than you found it?”
Throughout the week I jot down little inspirational phrases that pop into my head, or that I hear or read. I don’t know if that one was mine or someone else’s, but it is so profound that I decided it should be the last thing I see before I go to bed and the first thing I see when I wake up.
One evening, I was out with some friends in downtown Minneapolis. Every hour I had to excuse myself to go out into the cold and put another two quarters in my parking meter. One of those times, my brisk walk to the meter was interrupted by a man, wrapped head to toe in tattered winter apparel.
As soon as I stepped from the pub, I saw the man – he was about 10 feet away. My thoughts: Here we go. This guy is going ask me for money. Just don’t make eye contact. Keep walking, keep walking. In a dialect of English I could barely understand, he mumbled, “Excuse me, blah blah blah…” To which I responded with a sharp, “No thank you.” I kept walking.
Another 50 feet, and I arrived at my nearly expired meter. I reached into my pocket, full of quarters, and extracted just two. I glanced back to the assailant who was now scanning the street scene for another source of funds. I inserted the quarters into the meter then lingered, glancing back, hoping that he would move along, or bother someone else so I could return to the warmth of the pub and my friends, without another hassle.
It was cold and I was getting colder and I gave up waiting after only 10 – 15 seconds. I figured I could slip past the societal menace without incident, so I headed back.
As I approached, I noticed that he was standing in front of two identical US Mailbox receptacles. Getting closer, I saw that he was holding an envelope. “At least he’s not looking at me.” I thought, and I slipped right by.
I was nearly at the door, when I had a sudden urge to turn around and assess his situation a little further. On closer inspection, he appeared to be wrestling with the decision as to which mailbox to insert his letter. I inched closer and realized that in the near darkness of the streetlight, one could barely see the instructions posted on the mailboxes.
I decided to intervene and asked, “What are you trying to do?” Pointing his letter back and forth between the mouths of the two mailboxes, he said, “Letter, blah blah… Which one blah blah…” I realized at this point that he wasn’t inebriated. Simply, english was not his first language. Nonetheless, communication occurred. I held out my hand, offering to inspect his letter. He handed it to me. I could see that it was addressed to a medical insurance company, and appeared to be properly postaged.
I took out my cell phone and activated the flashlight feature to illuminate the instructions on the mailboxes. I quickly determined that they were indeed the same and that it would not make a difference into which receptacle the letter was deposited. I pointed the letter back and forth to each mailbox and said, “Same. Same.” With a great big smile on his face, he nodded his head up and down and said, “Thank you. Thank you.”
Trusting me, he turned back to the mailboxs and inserted his letter into the one on the right. He turned and saw that I was still standing there. I don’t know why I didn’t just leave. Part of me wanted to make sure he didn’t encounter any more hurdles. Just before turning away, I said, “I’m sorry about – ” He interrupted by saying, “No problem. It’s okay.”
We both knew what I had done just 60 seconds before; how I had instantly judged and shunned him. But he forgave me – just like that.
Did I leave yesterday better than I found it? I think the day left me better than it found me.