FAIRBANKS — A few days ago when my friend and I were entering a store, I realized I couldn’t find my cellphone. Assuming it fell to the bottom of my purse, I asked my friend to call my phone. While waiting for my phone to ring, I noticed my friend now talking on her phone. She waved for me to follow her while she began to describe what we looked like. She then told the caller we were headed in their direction. That’s when I realized that two strangers had found my phone and were returning it. I thanked the strangers profusely, overjoyed by the return of my iPhone. Walking away in amazement, we took delight in the kindness of the strangers.
As our shopping was complete, we began hunting for the fastest and shortest checkout line. My friend selected her choice and stood behind a gentlemen and his small daughter. Out of the blue, he called out her last name with a “Ms.” in front. Bewildered, she asked how he knew her. Before she got a response, the stranger handed her a purse resembling her own. He tells her that everything is still there and that his daughter saw it on a shelf. They were about to hand it to the check out clerk when she walked up behind him in line. Thanking him repeatedly she handed him $20 and insisted he take it as a reward. Hesitantly, he gave in and stated, “Thank you, I’ll go buy my daughter something.”
We were astonished and deeply touched by the kindness of another stranger. Eager to share our experience, I grabbed a manager at the store and told her the remarkable story. She smiled and said, “You would be surprised how many times that happens here.”
As we drove home, we discussed the likelihood of something like this happening two times in a row. My teenage son, who was with us that afternoon, reveled in the event. In the end, these strangers had not only shown us kindness, but also taught a young man about integrity and good will. They have no idea the impact they made that day. Stories like these remind us about the impact kindness can have with strangers and the opportunities to “pay it forward.”
In my work, I travel quite a bit and often end up sitting next to a parent with a small child on an airplane. Helping them in some way manage the flight allows me to pay forward all those who helped me when my children were small. Without ever being asked, strangers would help when I was flying to New York with three kids. Exhausted and out of entertainment, some wonderful traveler would capture their attention or help me carry the multitude of items small children require. I was always so grateful to these people who I had never met and never saw again. Seeing my need, they reached out. Each person responded to my sincere appreciation by saying, “No problem. I remember what it was like to travel with young children.”
My mom always taught us the value of being kind to people including those you’ve never met again. To this day, you’ll find her in the store talking so warmly to someone, that you’d swear she’s known this person a long time. But ask her who that person is, and she’ll joyfully exclaim, “Oh it’s just a nice stranger I met in the store.”
My mom’s love of people was instilled in me from a very young age. Life is too short to walk through it blind to those around you. Sending good karma or brightening someone else’s day costs nothing and the return on investment is magnificent. When I take the time to give a sincere compliment or simply acknowledge a stranger with a smile, it warms me to see their face light up. We can all be like those gentlemen who returned my cell phone and my friend’s purse. The kindness is remarkable and I wish them a return on investment tenfold.
Keli Hite McGee is an executive coaching and strategic planning consultant for Hites Consulting Inc. and an instructor for the UAF Community and Technical College Professional Development and Corporate Training Program. She can be reached at email@example.com. This column is provided as a public service of the UAF Applied Business Department. Copies of this column can be found at www.AlaskaLS.com.