Kindness is Rewarding

In an earlier entry I mentioned that kindness is rewarding. Even if the only reward was that good feeling you get from being kind it is well worth the effort. But trust me, that is not all the reward you can get. People respond to kindness and sometimes… well sometimes it pays off big. I lived through the perfect example.

About a decade ago, (wow, how time flies) I was heading home from a business trip to Washington DC; home at the time was still in the Chicago area. A nasty thunderstorm had ripped through Chicago and was headed for the east coast. The airports in Chicago were shut completely down for a while. When one of the major hub airports like Chicago or Atlanta get shut down all varieties of havoc are unleashed upon flight schedules. When I got to Washington National Airport (as it was named then) the calm early afternoon skies were clear and blue. The flight departure signs were cluttered with “delayed” and “canceled” flights, and the televisions hanging from the ceiling spouted gloom and doom news about the bad weather. I checked in, and settled into an uncomfortable seat with a book, prepared for a long afternoon. My flight was merely delayed as were two or three other flights to Chicago that should have departed before noon. The airport started to fill up. They switched our departure gate and I lost my uncomfortable seat and ended up leaning against a wall with my nearly finished book.

The world is full of grouchy people. Most just like to complain or be gruff for a bit and then they are happy and can accept what is going on around them. There are some that are just nasty people. The unfortuanate thing is that often in pressure situations the grouchy people feed off the energy of the nasty people and you get a nasty mob. That was what was beginning to happen that afternoon at Washington National Airport.

They changed our departure gate again, and I spent too much money on a skimpy airport sandwich for dinner. Soon after I’d propped my self up against another wall the sandwich and the book were finished. I began chatting with a few people around me. We were all headed to Chicago, but we were from several different flights. They were herding us all together because nothing was going to Chicago it seemed. I began wondering if the hotel I had stayed at would have room for me for another night. They skies outside the floor to ceiling windows had turned grey and the wind had picked up.

Then the departure gate was changed for one of the morning flights. Weary people gathered their belongings and headed out once again. It was evident that there would be at least one flight that would make it to Chicago that evening. Not me. Not any of those around me. Someone commented about how lucky those folk were. The grouches started offering reasons why they should have been selected for the flight instead of those who had been waiting the longest. One particularly arrogant nasty guy stated that they should take the first class passengers from every flight, and leave the rest of us to rot.

It was not long before an airline employee came into the area and announced that there were no more flights going to Chicago that evening. All remaining flights were canceled. We were free to find alternate transportation, or lodging, and that they had set up a special ticket counter just for the Chicago flights to deal with transfers, new tickets for morning flights, whatever. The news was bad, granted. Four or five flights worth of people were stuck in DC. Some yelling started then, but for the most part folks just picked up their belongings and headed for the ticket counter. I was in no rush. I had already resigned myself to sleeping on the airport floor. I’d even picked out a spot behind a potted palm tree.

I was second from the end of the line when I got there. It was a very, very long line. I could hear people shouting at the ticket agents. Soon the lady in front of me, and the gentleman behind me started talking about the nasty people, and how they just didn’t understand that kind of attitude. I added my two cents worth and soon we were in a pleasant discussion about the weather, the hard floors and how the rock and mortar walls would be echoing snores all night long. We laughed as the afternoon slipped into evening.

Then the real nastiness began. The grouches were becoming nasty, the nasties even nastier. People that had finished their turn at the ticket counter were yelling even as they exited the area. And right in the middle of it all was a lone airline employee who valiantly answered questions and tried to sooth frustrated souls. She was really earning her paycheck. Another particularly arrogant nasty guy got into her face and screamed at her. He was literally two inches from her nose. Others chimed in. The nastiness grew. She made her way, eventually, to the end of the line. She had a deer in the headlights look about her, and a tight painful smile. She asked if we had any questions. I asked why some of the people in line thought she controlled the weather. The gentleman asked if he could get her a drink before the concessions closed. The lady asked if she needed a hug. She started to cry and we just kept talking to her. We asked about her family. If she rode the Metro or drove. Did she want a tissue. What her favorite area restaurant was. I was so happy to be standing there helping to make another person feel better. Soon she wiped at her face one last time, thanked us for being kind, and returned to her job of dealing with nasty people and soothing frustrations. The same people yelled at her on her return trip back to the ticket counter.

About twenty minutes later the airline employee appeared behind us in line. She made shushing noises when we started to greet her. She mouthed, “follow me” and put a finger to her lips with the universal “shush, be quiet” sign. When we were out of sight of the people in the line, she explained that there were exactly three empty seats left on the 10am flight (that was now departing at 6:15pm). She told us that the shift manager had decided to leave them empty, but that she had talked him into letting her find three deserving people. She thanked us again for being kind, gave us all a hug, and shoved us toward the departure gate with a “hurry, they are holding the door for you.”


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