Local businesses thrive on decency, kindness

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 22, 2005

I believe that sometimes you can see someone for the first time and feel that you know a lot about that person….and be right.

Recently I was out of town at a conference.

The meetings were over for the day so I was killing time by walking through a store, just browsing around.

Email newsletter signup

I barely noticed a man who was working over in the corner of the store, getting ready to move a piece of merchandise or something-he was just someone doing a menial job-I never looked up to acknowledge him.

It was only when I heard the crash that I looked up, and for the first time, I looked at him.

He had backed into another piece of merchandise while moving another, causing it to fall over and shatter.

The loud noise that it made paled in comparison to the quiet look of frustration that came over his face.

And though this was the first time I had ever seen the man, I immediately sensed I knew a lot about him.

His physical stats were along these lines-around 5’8″, slender, in his early thirties, and black.

But you can’t know much about a person by just observing these features.

You have to look closer.

And for some reason, this day, I did.

He looked like he had not had an easy thirty years.

He looked like he had been ridden hard and put up wet more than once.

His shoulders drooped slightly, communicating to me that they had probably carried more than their fare share for a man of only thirty.

And because of the just happened mishap, his face framed a

look of dread, picturing a man that looked worried over how much money this would cost him-or even worse-whether he would lose his job…and you could tell… if you looked close enough… that he couldn’t afford to lose another one.

I saw him nervously pound his fisted right hand into his open left hand a few times, whether in a symbolic self-flagellating gesture or in order to relieve an inner anxiety, I could not tell.

I believe that sometimes you can see someone for the first time and feel that you know a lot about that person….and be wrong.

I saw the lady, the store’s owner, for the first time as she came scurrying from the other side of the store and stepped into the middle of the broken debris.

She was very attractive, dressed to the nine’s, had more than ample jewelry-not the cheap stuff either-one could tell she was financially well off and probably a snooty “high brow”.

I expected her to start venting at any moment her displeasure at the dejected man for his clumsiness.

As I saw him watch her survey the damage, I saw his shoulders sag a little more, as if being saddled again with a weight too familiar to him.

Her response was exactly what I had not expected from “someone like her”.

She looked at the man and asked if he was ok.

He shrugged his weighted shoulders, while his eyes looked down at the broken merchandise.

She called him by name and said “Don’t you worry about this, this is not important, in ten minutes time we will have forgotten it even happened”.

She stooped to start picking up some of the broken pieces and simply asked if he would mind going to get a dust pan.

You could tell he was taken back some.

He began an effort to apologize when she interrupted him by calling him by name again and saying “It’s ok, things like this happen when one is working.

I told you, in ten minutes we won’t even remember this”.

He left to go get a dust pan that was in a storage room.

As he walked by where I was standing I noticed the look in his face did not seem as tense.

His shoulders seemed a little straighter, as if they were a little less weighted.

I then turned around and looked at the lady in her designer outfit, still stooping down, picking up broken pieces.

I thought to myself “Lady, you may not remember this mishap in ten minutes, but I bet that man on his way to get a dust pan will remember your act of kindness for a very long time”.

The American, free enterprise, capitalistic system has often gotten a bad rap because many hold that its very premise is narcissistically based, and thus, by its nature, will tend to bring the worst out of people.

As president of the Chamber, I have had many opportunities to visit with many of the business owners and plant managers in town.

I have seen this same decency and kindness in most of them. It is a reminder to me that we bring into the business world what is already inside of us.

And I believe that is why so many of our businesses have been a success.