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  • Writer's pictureBill Stauffer

Gratitude Friday 9-2-22 – The Kindness of Strangers

Be the reason someone smiles. Be the reason someone feels loved and believes in the goodness in people.” ― Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart

Over the pandemic years of chaos, I have gradually reached the conclusion that nothing works the way it did before. Supply chain challenges, staffing shortages and the cobbling together of work & home life to adapt to our rapidly changing dynamics have turned things upside down. What used to work doesn’t. When things do work, they take herculean effort. Toilet paper was probably the first thing that people took for granted that became a scarce commodity. “Can you spare a square” was the plea from households across the land who had not given a thought to TP as an essential product before then. Welcome to our new normal. We may be here for a while.

We all adapted. For me, one of the proudest moments in the early days of pandemic is when everyone across the national recovery community realized that there were no face-to-face meetings and people who depended on support were dangerously isolated. We all scrambled to get as much online and communicate it out to those who needed support. In around two weeks, from mid-March 2020 to the beginning of April of that year everyone was working on this. People across the county just saw things that needed to get done and they did it, often to help people they had never met. Perhaps because strangers went out of their way to help them when they needed support to find their own way into recovery. We are at our best when we do something for another person selflessly.

The workforce crisis has meant that every most all fields of employment are understaffed. Those who are on the job are stressed, dealing with things behind the scenes that are not working and scrambling to get the job done despite all the challenges. This means empty grocery store shelves, canceled airline flights and a lot of inconvenience. It is really upsetting for everyone, for both those who work in these industries and the customers. People can feel grumpy with all of these things going on. I know I can be short and get upset when things do not work the way I think that they should. It can be unhelpful at best. I have worked service jobs with people being nasty to me for something outside of my control. It makes things even more miserable. Such misery is infectious.

In the last year, I have been thinking about this a lot and working to adjust my perspective. I remind myself as a customer that when something does not work right, the odds are that nothing in the systems that deliver those services are working the way they used to. When something goes smoothly, it is a pleasant surprise. My father and stepmother who volunteered as educators in Kenya for ten years talk about how when the lights would regularly go out or something did not work, everyone simply adapted and went on with their lives given the new reality. It may be harder for us as we have historically had different expectations. Things used to work here, but they don’t in the same way anymore. An unfortunate reality. Adjusting my expectations has helped with not getting upset as much.

A few weeks ago, I did a training on recovery history in America in Lexington Kentucky. My flights home was canceled. I drove home into the wee hours of the next morning. It was a long day, but I made it back to Pennsylvania. Travel has become unpredictable. I decided to drive when things are under 10 hours. My adaptation to the current reality. To save my Prius with 140K miles on it. I can do calls along the way and stay productive. When I do my next presentation on recovery history in America at the ARCO Leadership Summit in Minnesota, I will have to risk flying.

I went to pick up the car. The staff member was new and trying to navigate around the things that were inoperable. It took an hour to get on the road. About a mile out, a low tire pressure light came on. I put air in the tire and continued on my way. I drove the day south to Lewisburg WV, a bucolic place, voted the coolest small town in America. The next morning, the light was on. It was time to call customer service. The options were not great. I went for the “get it fixed and submit paperwork for reimbursement” choice over the “drive 85 miles one way to get another car” option.

I was clearly an out of towner at the mercy of the garage. I got to the tire place and explained the situation to the guy at the desk. He looked at it and said the paperwork was such a hassle he would just fix it for free. He had me back on the road in 20 minutes. He was really wonderful to me. I was so happy I bought the staff pizza for lunch. It really made my week. I am still grateful to that tire guy for helping me out. Kindness is infectious too. One of the things I can do is pay that forward. I suspect that the more times we are all kind to each other, the less upset and the better off we will all be. Grateful to that counter guy, who told me that he was having a rough day when I walked in. I guess he decided to not take it out on me, but instead to flip it into positivity. Grateful for the reminder it is the choice I have as well. Grateful for another chance to work with the recovery community of West Virginia, it is always rewarding. Grateful for the places I am invited to train and educate people about recovery.

What are you grateful for today?

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