We are lent into each other’s keeping

Tom Tunguz had a beautiful post on his excellent blog – “We are lent into each other’s keeping.”

(Cal Fussman, Esquire author and interviewer, and Muhammad Ali must catch a plane, but they are running late.)

Later in his life, Ali suffered from Parkinson’s disease, which slowed him significantly. Fussman is worried about missing the plane, and is trying to hurry them through security.

Just then, a woman pulls a camera from her purse to take a photo with Ali. Ali stops, walks towards her and takes several photographs with her, before continuing on.

When Fussman asks Ali why he did it, Ali replies, “That was likely the only opportunity she would have to take a photograph with me. I wanted to make sure she had the one she wanted.”

Certainly, the experience gave Ali some satisfaction, but as Fussman relates in the interview, the empathy Ali showed impressed him the most.

Fussman confesses in the podcast that he respected and admired Ali more after having met him – something that doesn’t happen with many heroes.

The entire story reminded me of an old friend who often tells me, “We are lent into each other’s keeping.” Our time with each other is borrowed, it’s duration is unknown, and that uncertainty make it precious.

Ali recognizes this uncertainty, and finds a moment to show empathy, understanding and be kind.

Fussman ends the interview with Ali asking him for words of wisdom. When Fussman asks, “How you define evil?”, Ali replies, “Unfriendliness.”

As I’m rushing through my days, trying to make a plane or get to the next meeting, I think about Ali, hobbled by Parkinson’s, the best known celebrity of his generation, dancing through the airport, still taking the time to be kind to a stranger.

We are lent into each other’s keeping.

Something about this story made me choke up for a few seconds. I guess it just resonates beautifully with my experiences and my why.

There is always the opportunity to get caught up in the latest human foible of the day – someone was rude and maybe someone was playing unnecessary politics and work. Life can pass us by if we pay too much attention this stuff.

I am frequently reminded of a line I read from someone on his advice to his 20 year old self. He said – “Be kind, life will roll on with you.”

True. We are indeed lent into each other’s keeping. Thank you, Tom, for a beautiful story.

The parable of the wind and the sun

A few incidents had me talking about the effects of kindness over force to a wiser friend. She remarked that our discussion reminded her of the parable of the wind and the sun. Ever since we had that conversation, the parable has popped into my head as I reflected on a couple of places where I stumbled recently. Here is the story – thank you Bartleby.com.

The Wind and the Sun were disputing which was the stronger. Suddenly, they saw a traveler coming down the road, and the Sun said: “I see a way to decide our dispute. Whichever of us can cause that traveler to take off his cloak shall be regarded as the stronger. You begin.”

So, the Sun retired behind a cloud, and the Wind began to blow as hard as it could upon the traveler. But, the harder he blew, the more closely did the traveler wrap his cloak round him, till at last the Wind had to give up in despair.

The Sun, then, came out and shone in all his glory upon the traveler, who soon found it too hot to walk with his cloak on.

wind and the sun, pressure, kindness, severity

Moral of the story: “Kindness affects more than severity.”

This is an example I know to be true and one that I remember very clearly. However, in Hogan’s terms, people who have “Boldness” as a defining characteristic tend to default to arrogance and aggressiveness under pressure. So, as I recently discovered, I have remembered this in the good times and completely forgotten this when under pressure.

A great lesson – one that I definitely need to do better at.

Added note: I am reminded of the quote – “When you want to fight fire with fire, remember that the fire department uses water.” :-)

Small things and big things

I once enlisted one of my wiser friends to help me with my writing. One of the lessons I learnt from him was that a sign of great writing is the ability to make the writing less about you and more about the subject. That’s one of the many reasons why I love Seth’s blog – the posts are hardly ever about Seth and his experiences. They are always about the idea.

I struggle with this and, in some ways, I’ve long given up on my writing abilities. These days, I’ve learnt to focus on the showing up and sharing bit. And, this is a long winded way of saying today’s post is another one of those that is centered around an anecdote. :-)

This afternoon, I went out for lunch with a friend – it was nice meeting him as we’d been in touch via blog and email for more than a year now as he consistently responded to my weekly “200 word project” notes every single week. It was great to meet him in “in real life.” Post lunch, we headed to a mall nearby as we both needed to get some shopping done. As I was getting done with my errands, I received a text from him. He was buying his first suit, was feeling totally lost and wondered if I might be able to help.

I knew exactly how he felt because I’d been in his position just a few years ago. I had moved to London and was about to fly out for an important client meeting in a few weeks. My manager suggested it was time to invest in a suit – I only had a blazer that wasn’t really a great fit.

This was the second important clothing recommendation he’d made. When I’d just moved to London, I had found my work attire inadequate by London standards. Big cities seem to be filled with folks with a lot of fashion sense and I needed to get with the program. So, he’d taken me to a T M Lewin store close to our work and suggested I buy their shirts. 4 shirts for a 100 pounds was a great deal for good quality shirts, he said. And, I listened. It was great advice. Now, it was time to listen to his advice again except for the fact that buying a suit can be an overwhelming experience if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Recognizing that, he did something incredibly nice – I used to often walk to the station with him on the day of the week I worked at the office (rest were at the client) and catch up. This time, he took me to the T M Lewin outlet that dealt with suits. In the 20 minutes that followed, he explained what I should look for, helped me get a sense of what colors would look good for the shirts I had, helped me narrow down on a grey suit and made sure I tried it on to see how it fit. It fit well, he said. And, I bought my first suit.

It was a small 20 minute odd errand from his side.. but it meant a lot to me. It was what I’d expect a parent to do.

So, when this friend reached out wondering if I might be able to help, I was glad to be able to pay a bit of the goodness I received forward. As he tested his suit out, I typed out a note to this manager and friend and thanked him for that lovely gesture. I also shared the story with this friend and asked him to pay it forward.

It isn’t always possible to help everyone who wants help, of course. I’m a big believer in making sure we’re selfish about taking care of ourselves first. This sounds like a contradiction, but, the more we feel taken care of, the more time we have to really give ourselves to others. And, when we put ourselves in a position to really be of help, every once in a while, we get an opportunity to help people with what might seem to just be a small investment of our time.

And, I’ve learnt to make those small investments as often as possible, because, as my manager demonstrated, a small thing for us can often be a big thing for someone else.