In Rosamund Pilcher’s long, luscious novels set in England and Scotland, all sorts of relationships are explored and celebrated. In Coming Home, set against the background of World War II, all of her characters show consistent thoughtfulness.
The smallest favors are greeted with, “Thank you. You are so very kind.”
As I read that, it struck me that adding that bit of applause to a simple “thank you” could start a positive avalanche of kindness.
Unfortunately, kindness nearly met its’ demise when Assertiveness became the buzz word. “Don’t let people take advantage of you. Assert yourself!” we were counseled by the assertiveness brigade.
While I would never advocate being a doormat, I think the concept of assertiveness has been twisted into a dangerous perspective.
Nowhere was that more apparent than one summer when I was returning from a trip to Toronto and had a short layover in Detroit. When I got to the gate for my connecting flight, there was a sign saying the flight had been delayed.
Moments later, the customer service representative announced that it had been canceled.
Immediately, an uproar began. Two biker guys were especially obnoxious, threatening the airline employees and shouting obscenities.
The people at the counter not only had the enormous task of finding new flights for over a hundred passengers, they were also the recipients of endless verbal abuse.
Since I’d recently spent hours in airports due to canceled and delayed flights, I found the news upsetting. I’d been gone for several days and was eager to get home.
When I told the couple waiting in line with me that I thought I was going to cry, the man said, “Oh, please don’t. I can’t handle tears.” We all laughed and began chatting like old buddies.
Another man next to me in the line said, “I’m going to see if they can put me on another airline.” I decided to do the same.
When we finally got to the counter, he and I put down our tickets and the frazzled young customer service woman looked up and said, “Are you together?”
“We’ve been in line so long,” I told her, “that we’ve gotten engaged.” She smiled her first smile of the afternoon before booking me on a flight which departed six hours later than my original one.
By this time, I was resigned to waiting and decided to appoint myself as the social director for all the bumped passengers. I struck up several conversations with strangers and took a 14-year-old girl under my wing.
If I was stranded, there was no point in spending the time being mad and miserable. There seemed to be no shortage of opportunities to cheer people up.
I actually began to enjoy myself.
After the long line of people from my flight had all been rebooked, I walked back to the counter and asked the woman who had helped me forty-five minutes earlier if I could be wait listed for an earlier flight
“I’ll see,” she said as she began typing on her keyboard. “That was Winter, wasn’t it?”
I was astonished. “How can you possibly remember my name?” I asked.“You’ve had so many people in this line.”
She shrugged and said, “I remembered you because you were nice to me.”
At the very same moment, the biker guys were cursing the customer service representative next to her. She probably remembered them, too.
Without realizing it, this woman taught me a lesson I don’t ever want to forget: in dealing with other people, would you rather be remembered for being kind or cruel?
The impression you leave is up to you, of course.
Oh, yes, and she also bumped me up to first class reminding me that kindness is, after all, positively contagious.