The Kindness of Strangers


The airline staff person noticed I was trying to get my bag off of the conveyer belt, and he smiled and said, “May I help you with that?”  I said, “Thank you.”  He replied, “No, thank YOU for flying American, for without YOU, there’s no me!”  WOW; I was wowed!  I fly a lot, and usually check my luggage.  This is the first time that I have had any airline staff person wow me like that. 

Oh sure, it is quite common for the airline steward and even the pilot to say, “Thank you for flying xyz airline,” as I am disembarking the plane.  And even when it is said with a smile and a friendly tone of voice, that is not the same.  That is what I call, “Smiles Training.”  It is scripted.  It is always the same.  The staff have been taught to use that greeting.  And that is good; at least there is a spirit of appreciation for the customer’s business on the part of the airline.  That is certainly better than being ignored, or nothing being said that shows gratitude for the customer’s business. But it isn’t enough.  It is similar to being told, “Have a nice day” by the fast food worker as he passes your food across the counter without even making eye contact, when the day is almost over!  Those type of greetings are clear to many customers that the staff person has been told to use those exact words, and they do not really show appreciation for the customer by that particular representative of the business.  “Smiles training” is not enough to connect the customer to the business in a positive way. It takes genuine appreciation displayed by all staff who interface with the customer for real connection to occur. 

All of my traveling isn’t by air; I also drive a lot.  I was driving to my father-in-law’s 92nd birthday this past weekend, and I was traveling alone. Mike was already there, having flown.  Mid way on the trip I had an alert on the dashboard indicating I had a potentially serious problem with the pressure of my tires.  The pressure of all 4 tires was so low that the pressure reading did not register.  As soon as I could I exited and found a gas station with an air machine.  But I wasn’t sure that I knew how to use it correctly.  I knew how to take the cap off of the tire, and I knew how to find the amount of tire pressure that each tire should have.  But I did not know how to read the pressure gauge to see how much pressure each tire actually had, and I wasn’t sure that I was putting the air in correctly.  Not wanting to assume how to put the right amount of air in each tire, I looked around for someone who could help me.  Of course, there are few full service gas stations to be found these days, and this wasn’t one of them.  I decided that going inside the station store to get help would probably not result in a solution.  But I did see someone who I thought might be willing to help me.  There was a clean cut friendly looking young man (profiling perhaps, but it is the truth!) pumping gas.  I explained my problem and asked him if he would help me, and he did.  Helping me took about ten minutes of his time.  Not only did he do the work to put air in the tires, he explained what he was doing, including how to read the tire gauge.  I offered to pay him for his help, which he refused to accept.  I was so appreciative of his assistance that I vowed to look for an opportunity to help someone in a similar manner, although not with car problems, since that is not my strong suit!

Another stranger offered assistance to me recently, and this one, similar to the airline attendant, without being asked.  Having bought many groceries at Costco for the upcoming Thanksgiving meals, I was struggling to push the grocery cart up the hill to my car.  A woman saw my struggle, came up to my side and took my cart away from me, saying, “Let me help you with that.” She had a few groceries she was carrying, and seemed like she was in a hurry, likely having plenty to do to get ready for her own holiday.  But she saw my need and stepped in and helped me.  She even insisted on unloading all of my groceries into my car. It was such a pleasant encounter that as she walked away from me I regretted not having asked her name, for I knew I would write about the experience.  A few days after Thanksgiving I saw her in another store (amazing, but not really, since I believe in synchronicity) and she asked about my holiday.  We exchanged names, and I thanked Sharon again for her assistance.  I want to pay it forward for her help, and I will. 

The kindness of strangers.  People who have no responsibility to assist us, who step up and do, some without even being asked, who are aware of our need because they are paying attention and notice our need and offer their assistance, such as Sharon and the airline attendant.  Then there are others, who when we ask, are very willing to help. I am so appreciative of these I have mentioned.  These experiences make me want to do more for others. 

I want to pay it forward, and am looking for opportunities to do so.                      


About Patti Fralix

Patti Fralix inspires positive change in work, life, and family through Speaking, Consulting, and Coaching in three specialty areas: Leadership, Managing Differences, and Customer Service. Her leadership firm, The Fralix Group, Inc., has been helping clients achieve practical and tangible results for twenty-two years.
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2 Responses to The Kindness of Strangers

  1. Gail Mason says:

    Loved your “Kindness of Strangers” article! It reminded me of the book “Raving Fans” and the importance of world class customer service. Another thought… we moved to Birmingham about 2.5 years ago and found that people generally are more likely to help without asking. Rob and I thought that everyone was just faking it. We even talked to our neighbors (moved from Atlanta about the same time we did), and they had the same experience. Our conclusion – people in Birmingham are just naturally more thoughtful – maybe genuine southern hospitality! We obviously like it here! 🙂

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