Have you ever had a moment when your connection to a total stranger made a meaningful impact and you didn’t even realize it was happening? One of my favorite examples comes from a story I heard from Tim Sanders this past summer. Tim is an amazing speaker, and he spoke about how a sales conference at Timberland gave rise to one of the most incredible acts of compassion and courage.
In December 2006, Timberland had 200 sales reps down in New Orleans for their annual sales conference. One afternoon they broke away from the conference to help rebuild a local restaurant. Meeting organizers also took the sales reps to see the ninth ward to feel and experience the worst of the devastation. Soon after arriving to the ninth ward by bus, one sales rep noticed a local volunteer trying to get a community center back up and running. He approached the man about why it was still closed. The volunteer told the sales rep that they couldn’t get people to help cleanup because no one had shoes. The ground was covered with debris, nails and screws and even this man’s shoes were so beat up that they exposed his toes. This is the moment where one man’s act of kindness changed a company, changed a community and maybe changed the world that day.
The sales rep was so moved by the volunteer’s struggles that he bent down, unlaced his shoes and gave them to the man. He walked barefoot back over the glass and debris and got back on the bus. His coworker looked at him and said, “where are your shoes?” The sales rep responded while pointing at the volunteer, “that man there told me they needed shoes, so I gave him mine.” So the coworker got up off the bus, took off his shoes and also gave them to the local volunteer. Several others overheard the conversation and within a few minutes, all 200 sales reps got off the bus and gave their shoes to the man. The volunteer was completely overwhelmed and couldn’t say thank you enough.
A senior manager sent the above picture back to a coworker at the hotel. Soon the picture and story spread around to the hotel staff and many of the guests at the hotel. The bus with the 200 sales reps arrived back at the hotel to people clapping, crying and asking what they could do to help. The local hotel staff had been devastated by the hurricane, and this story helped lift up their spirits. Other Timberland employees also heard about the story, and it inspired them to get involved with the effort to rebuild New Orleans. How about those sales reps? Do you think they will ever forget the experience they had together that day? As Tim says in his book Saving the World at Work, “in the Timberland culture this is called a ripple: a single act that creates a chain reaction for good.” And it all started with one man giving another man his shoes.
What I took from this story is that connection, compassion and giving back can make an impact in ways we never thought possible. On a smaller scale, I felt something similar one day at Levine Children’s Hospital. I volunteer for a group called the Starlight Society that coordinates entertainment events for the kids. We help the children have some fun away from their rooms and get their mind off being in a hospital. It is really special feeling when you get a child to smile or laugh just by helping them make lion’s heads out of paper plates, poster board guitars, or dolphin sticker laden beach buckets at our Beach Bash. And yes, temporary tattoos are still their favorite!
However, I didn’t realize the impact we had on the parents of the children. One parent pulled me aside one day and spoke with real emotion about how we helped make life normal for their family. By coming out to help these kids, we were actually helping the parents too. And for some reason, this meant the world to me. I gained a real sense of purpose from connecting with these families. It also showed me that the benefits of giving back can be endless. I stumbled upon my own little ripple effect, and it made feel like a more complete person.
Over time, I started to bring friends and co-workers to the events to share in this experience. And we always left a little closer from it. Kids really are special people, even if they beat me in a doctor relay race! Now I am not sure who gets more out of these events…the families…or me.
So have you had a similar moment where an act of your compassion created your own little ripple effect? You may not even have realized it happened at the time so give it some thought. If you haven’t, I am sure there are plenty of ways to get involved in your community. Connection and compassion work in so many extraordinary ways, and that makes one plus one more than two for me!