Oxfam is an international organization committed to finding solutions to poverty and social injustice. It does its job well. And the woman beside me on the plane was clearly preparing for an interview with the organization.
She was extremely focused and seemed detail-oriented as she combed through the pile of documents she was holding. Intensity, anxiety, and focus radiated from her.
Nearly halfway through the flight, someone in the row behind us kicked our seats a few times. The woman next to me whipped her head around immediately and said in a harsh tone, “Would you PLEASE stop that!”
The woman behind us quickly and sincerely replied, “I’m sorry, he’s only sixteen months old… I’m trying to contain him.”
My seat mate didn’t even respond. She just went right back to her papers. She wasn’t willing to slow down, see the big picture. She was in a hurry.
In that moment I wished the people at Oxfam, who would soon be interviewing her in Boston, could have witnessed this encounter. Not because I wished her bad luck or because I’m surprised by such behavior (we all have our chippy moments), but because that small event may have been the single best indicator of how she might perform on the job.
If we can’t even deal in a caring manner with a sixteen-month-old kicking our airplane seat, how are we going to provide aid and care to war fleeing refugees or the next Hurricane-ravaged section of the world?
Only when we handle the small events of our lives well can we begin to address the big picture challenges. If someone truly hopes to improve the lives of people in the world (as interest in an Oxfam position suggests), then that person has to start by bringing the same compassion, empathy, and loving spirit to those we bump into every day.
A leader of a country, organization, company, division, team, council, family, or just that little voice within that leads each individual must represent the very best of his or her mission and values. A leader must treat the doorman well, express gratitude to the servers in a restaurant, and appreciate his or her administrative assistants. In small moments every day, we all have the opportunity to step back, see the big picture, and remember the point of why we choose to lead and to serve.
Nobody is perfect in every moment (I certainly am not), but there is an infectious spirit and energy that comes from small, yet caring, encounters.
Good luck on the next leg of your journey.
Jason Barger is the globally celebrated author of Step Back from the Baggage Claim, ReMember, and the newly released book Thermostat Cultures, as well as a coveted keynote speaker and leadership consultant. More importantly, he’s striving to be an above average father, husband, and friend.
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