Recently I had to telephone my mortgage company to ask them to correct an accounting error they had made. I usually haven’t enjoyed calling the company, because they would rather have you talk to a computer than a person. But I was determined, and finally I was connected to a cordial agent named Todd.
Todd cheerfully rectified the error and told me the accounting would be recorded before the end of the next day, when he was scheduled to fly to Beijing.
"What’s in Beijing?" I asked Todd.
"I’m going to see my girlfriend," he explained. "We’ve been dating on the Internet for a year, and I am going meet her in person for the first time."
Well, that was exciting to hear. I told Todd that I love relationship stories and that in my work I support people to have rewarding relationships.
"Say, Todd," I asked him boldly, "would you phone me when you get home and let me know how it went?"
"I’d be happy to," he replied, and I wished him a great trip.
When I got off the phone I felt really good. Not just because the accounting error had been handled; that turned out to be the lesser piece of the call. The greater piece was that I enjoyed an authentic conversation with a real person. In his book Success Intelligence, Robert Holden suggests that a lot of our personal and societal frustration is due to a multitude of "thin conversations." By contrast, this was really a good thick one. Besides getting my business done, I felt like I had made a friend.
Two weeks later I received a call from Todd, not from his office, but from his cell phone at home.
"How did your visit go?" I asked him.
"Even better then I expected," he reported. "I asked her to marry me, and she accepted!"
Well, that was even more exciting news than our first call! Todd told me some more details about his visit, and I congratulated him. I look forward to hearing about his wedding when it happens on an auspicious day for the Chinese: 9-9-09.
This month, February, the month for Valentines, I invite you to extend your circle of Valentines to include not just lovers, but people you encounter in situations that appear to be routine, boring or mundane. A master teacher told me that one of the secrets of success is to "take whatcha got and make whatcha want." If you find yourself in a meeting or interaction that is less than fulfilling, do not settle for how the scenario has traditionally gone, but try to create an experience that will be rewarding for you and the others involved.
Remember that the person to whom you are relating is more like you than they are different. While traveling on an airplane, I heard the head flight attendant announce that one of the flight attendants was celebrating her 40th anniversary at her job. I walked to the galley, congratulated the veteran, and asked her what was the most important thing she had learned in all her years of flying.
"I have learned that most people are nice people, and we all basically want the same things," she said.
Another message that helps me stay in my heart when relating in formal situations is a teaching from Marion Parker: "Be kind. Remember that everyone you meet is fighting a battle." People who are nasty or irritable are starving for love. "Hurt people hurt people." If you can find a way to soothe someone who is hurting, you break a karmic chain that will not only help you but everyone that person touches in the wake of your interaction.
Perhaps the best exemplar of transforming mundane situations is Dr. Patch Adams, with whom I shared a citizen diplomacy trip to the Soviet Union in the mid-1980s. At that time Communism was still a dark force in the country, just beginning to transform under Premier Gorbachov’s glasnost. Most of the Russians we met were fearful and quite serious. Not Patch, however. He sported his clown suit in the streets of Moscow, and had a great deal of fun placing red rubber noses on soldiers in Red Square. The soldiers and passers-by did not know what to make of Patch, a fish WAY out of water. Yet, the results Patch created were consistently extraordinary. No matter how stone-faced were his "victims," eventually they all began to laugh. His innocence and desire to connect and entertain were absolutely winning. Patch delivered a powerful lesson that no situation is beyond the capacity for joy and humor.
Boredom is not a net cast over you; it is a choice you make. If you are bored, it is your responsibility to do what you can to rise beyond the condition. Jules Renard noted, "I am never bored anywhere. Boredom is an insult to oneself."
The next time you have to call your mortgage or credit card company, or some apparently faceless institution, please remember my rewarding interaction with Todd. The 10 minutes that could break your day are the same 10 minutes that could make it.