“How Can I Help You?” by Craig Freshley

A message by Craig Freshley on November 19, 2017.  You can listen to a recording of it here. Here is a partial text:

I’m going to retell a story that I heard from my friend Gary, I’ve colored in some of the details but basically it goes like this…

Gary was on a business trip for a month, in Bangkok. He was tired, ready to go home. He had been dealing with translators, restaurants, hotels, and difficult relations with business partners. He was headed home to New York, but he had to stop half way there. The flight from Bangkok to Abu Dhabi went well but when he walked into the airport, his heart sank. There were people everywhere: sleeping, talking on cell phones, babies being fed, crying. He made his way to the flight information board and saw his flight… cancelled. He was trying to get home for Thanksgiving. He was tired, hungry, and he kinda snapped. He was angry. He had been doing pretty well with the customers and the changes, but he didn’t need this.

He made his way to the customer service line, and figured he was about 40th. One ticket agent. Tempers flared, tears cried. As he waited, he planned his speech. He figured he was going to get about 3 minutes with this representative, a face-to-face conversation with the faceless corporation that had done him wrong.

After about 1 1/2 hours, he found himself maybe 4th or 5th in line, close enough to overhear what other people were saying, and he refined his speech. He heard the customer service representative. After each person walked away, she gathered herself, looked in the eyes of the next person, and she said, “How can I help you?” He watched her do this repeatedly.

Gary closed his eyes and meditated. He prayed for help, his prayer began with something like “Please help this woman get me to New York”. But then his mind wandered a little bit and he started thinking about her, wondering: Did she have kids? She was about his age. How does she get to the airport? Drive like everyone else and park in the same garage? Maybe she takes the bus – it must be a long bus ride; this airport is kinda far outside the city. Does she wear her uniform on the bus? Do they have to check in through TSA? Maybe… she was called in. Maybe she was called away from her family on short notice, to deal with all these cancellations… I wonder if this is a holiday in Abu Dhabi…

Suddenly he had a new way of looking at the situation and he decided – when I get up to the counter – I’m going to have an attitude of “How can I help you?” He threw out the old speech. He didn’t make a new speech, but he just cultivated a new attitude of ‘how can I help you?’

He decided that he was going to try to see the problem as “their” problem. Not her problem to solve for him. They were both just trying to do their jobs, both in a difficult situation that neither one of them asked for. He decided he was going to be polite, to be patient. He was going to offer her compassion and respect, he was going to provide a respite for her in between dozens of angry customers. And when he got to the counter, he did those things. He acted out the attitude and when they were done, and he was about to walk away, he thanked her for being so helpful.

Gary walked away from that customer service counter feeling better than when he had arrived at that customer service line, not because of what he got from the transaction, but because of what he gave. I never heard if Gary made it back for Thanksgiving. But I’m thinking that maybe it doesn’t matter so much. I suspect that Gary walked away from that counter proud of himself for flipping his attitude and brightening that gal’s day, and he was probably okay with the outcome, whatever it was. I’m guessing.

You know what else? The material outcome probably wouldn’t have changed one bit if he had used speech number one. To me, the story illustrates the power of prayer. To me, I haven’t really seen direct evidence that prayer changes outcomes. Not in a way that is scientifically, or evidence based defensible. I have seen that prayer changes attitudes. That’s what happened in this case. What matters is not the accounting ledger of how people have done me wrong versus how people have done me right. Stuff happens. Bad things happen to good people. I can get myself in such a knot, such a bad mood trying to keep track of that ledger and trying to manage that ledger. What matters is a feeling of peace and happiness. We are seduced into thinking that by managing the ledger, by trying to get more than I paid for, that’s going to bring me peace and happiness. But, there is a short cut. The short cut is a change in attitude. In Gary’s case, his attitude changed through prayer and meditation. Attitudes are contagious. I like to think that while Gary was at the customer service counter, having his conversation, a person 3 places back overheard a snippet of that conversation and a way opened for that person to see things in a new light.

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