Several years ago I traveled to Philadelphia to attend the national Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) conference and exposition. Mayflower was a major exposition sponsor that year and smack in the middle of the Convention Center sat The Mayflower ship. At least in my memory, every aisle and important pathway led to or from that ship all week. After check-in I was wandering through the crowds when I noticed that NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon was the featured captain at The Mayflower’s command post. There he stood, big as life, signing autographs.

My publisher/boss at that time was (and remains) a rabid NASCAR fan. He was also a huge Jeff Gordon fan. Me? I sat in a box at Bristol once. It was enough for me! No interest whatsoever. Yet……

“What luck,” I thought. “I’ll just get Mr. Gordon to address his autographed picture personally to F___ and then I’ll have it framed! Won’t he be surprised and thrilled?! He’ll hang it in his Monster Shed.”

With laser focus on the task at hand I walked straight up to Mr. Gordon and asked, ‘Could you autograph this photo and address it personally to F___ F_____ please?”

And what happened next has remained as vivid to my memory as the days my children were born. Gordon raised his head, looked me square in the face and said,

“Hello! And how are YOU today?”

In no uncertain terms I knew exactly what he was implying: “Hey! I’m not just some famous piece of meat here. I’m a person who deserves to be treated with respect! How about some pleasantries before you make your demands!”

Being the Southern Belle (and yes, debutante) that I am and was, I was so mortified that I prayed an ocean wave would appear and suck me under the ship. Shame! Shame! Shame! If Sigmund Freud was correct in believing that thought is action in rehearsal, it was obvious my impulsive request was a pathetic by-product of my total thoughtlessness for the man in front of me. With every good intention of being thoughtful to someone else, I had totally lacked courtesy and had been unkind to the legendary NASCAR driver. Inexcusable. It’s a lesson I’ve NEVER forgotten.

I used my Jeff Gordon story as an example when I taught a series of classes last Spring, one of which involved the meaning and importance of kindness and courtesy. Courtesy has nothing to do with manners. It means “friendly-minded” and is rooted in the belief that everyone we meet is worthy of our friendship. Courtesy is closely related to kindness. Kindness is noticing someone else and recognizing his needs, i.e. seeing value in every person we meet.

How often do we trample over someone because we are so focused on the task at hand that we forget the importance of the humanity in front of us? “I’m a competitive person, but I have never understood people’s competitiveness at the expense of their colleagues,” Geraldine Ferraro.

So back to Jeff Gordon on The Mayflower in the middle of the convention floor. How to immediately repair the insult and damage?

I looked up at Mr. Gordon and said, “Oh! Hi! I’m terribly sorry. I hail from a southern state where NASCAR and you are king. My boss is a huge fan of yours. It would make him really happy if you would personalize your autographed photo to him. I know he will hang it in a special place.”

Of course Mr. Gordon did just that. In return I received a treasured gift and a life lesson.

If you were busy being kind,
Before you knew it, you would find
You’d soon forget to think ‘twas true
That someone was unkind to you.
If you were busy being glad,
And cheering people who are sad,
Although our heart might ache a bit,
You’d soon forget to notice it.
(R. Foreman)

~From the desk of Becky Morlok~

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