Posted by: zhak39 | January 10, 2009

Ripple of Kindness

Last week there was an orientation for new board members of the research park where I have temporary office space.  I was invited to attend in order to get up to speed on the history of the project.  I also really believe in this effort and wanted to help out in whatever little way I could.  The establishment of a research park is a collaboration of diverse stakeholders- public education of course, business leaders in the private sector, government on the local, state and federal levels, philanthropists and then a couple of grunts like me.   The guest list was impressive to say the least.  These people are shapers, you know, french cuffs and Armani.

It was pretty daunting.

I did what I tend to do–made myself look busy and preoccupied with the lcd projector, wireless connections, the oh so important snack table.  It’s my way of pretending that I actually belong in a room and didn’t just wander off the street.  My colleague in the main office was having none of that.  She started to introduce me to the grand poobahs.  The very first person she introduced me to was the CEO of a regional biotech company.  He shook my hand then looked at me a little closely.  He repeated my name and said, “I’ve heard of you.  I can’t remember who it was but someone yesterday told me you are fabulous.”

Knock me flat.  I thought he must somehow be connected with my wonderful friend Laurie, the only person in the world who has ever used that adjective and my name in the same sentence.  That didn’t seem quite right though.  She is as natural and sustainable as humanly possible in an urban landscape.  Somehow I couldn’t see her hanging out with a major supporter of an industry that by definition  uses biological systems and living organisms to change nature into products.

During the presentation I doodled, trying to figure out what the connection could be.  I had his name and company which meant nothing to me.  I ran through mental lists of professors that might be working with him that I had contact with.  Dead end.  Then it came to me.

Last week a potential candidate had come to speak with the dean.  With the downturn in the economy, he was looking at being laid off this month.  A four year degree then three in the field and there’s the unemployment line and limited prospects without retraining.  His wife is about to give birth to their second child at any moment.   He came early and the dean was delayed at another meeting.  The poor guy!  He was so nervous and just consumed by worry.  So rather than let him break into a cold sweat in the lobby I talked to him.  How was his wife?  How is his little boy?  Is he looking forward to having a little sister?

Doom and gloom, this poor fella.  His son is a handful, a headstrong monster.  Doesn’t listen to commands.  Chews on computer cords.  Whatever.  I shared with him a technique I used with my kids as toddlers.  When they were focused on doing something unsafe I would come up behind them and clap my hands once, loud.  Just enough to startle without scaring.  Then I would give them something else to do.  We chatted about how exciting birth is and how wonderful children can be until the dean came in.

The next day he sent me an email.  They had some family over the night before.  His son was wound up and wouldn’t go to bed.  He and his wife told him to stop and to pick up his toys and so on.  The boy ignored them.  Then what the heck, he tried the clapping thing.  Drawn to the sound, the boy looked at him.  Dad says, time to go to bed and the kid picked himself and toddled off to his room.  Yeah!

So what does this have to do with the CEO of a biotech company?  This guy’s mother-in-law was visiting during the whole scene.  He explained to her where he had gotten the technique and that I had been really helpful in getting him in to see the dean.  She is an assistant at the tech company and shared all this with her colleagues the next day.  The CEO heard about it and thought it was cool.  Then he met me with the name fresh in his mind.

Some say that no good deed goes unpunished.  This is not how the universe works.  These meetings make me nervous and self-conscious.  What the CEO said made me feel good about myself and happy.  Just like when that young man came to me nervous and preoccupied with worries.  Kindness travels not just in ripples but reverberates back on itself.

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