A few years ago, a 61-year-old reader we're calling Rebecca stopped by her local gas station/convenience market in Guerneville, Calif., to buy gasoline for her automobile on Thanksgiving morning. She walked into the market, gave the clerk the $12 cash she had on her, and then walked outside to pump her gas.
"I wasn't paying attention to the amount of gas going into my car," wrote Rebecca. "I finally looked up at the pump and it was going past $13!" Concerned she was taking gas she hadn't paid for and that she didn't have any cash to pay more, she stopped pumping and tried to make eye contact with the clerk.
As she was doing this, a young man in his twenties walking by smiled at her and said, "I put $5 on your account." Without breaking stride, the young man continued to walk to his truck, get in, and drive away. Rebecca kept pumping until the gas pump reached $17.
Stories of random acts of kindness are always worth noting. We're of course not obligated to lend a hand to make a stranger's life a bit more bearable, but when we do it has an amazing capacity to spark a bit of unexpected joy.
Rebecca noticed the young man was driving a delivery truck for a local oil company. "I sent his office an email and then called the next morning to make sure his boss was aware of the kindness of one of his employees."
Rebecca wrote that while $5.00 doesn't sound like much money, it was still $5 worth of gas more than she would have had. "It meant the world to me." She figured she'd be able to go an extra 50 miles on the gas he paid for.
But she pointed out that it wasn't just the extra gasoline that meant so much to her. "It was the randomness of his kind gesture, his nice smile, and that he did it without expecting anything in return."
I'm fond of the quote which states that character (sometimes "integrity") is "how you behave when no one is looking." Sure, Rebecca's benefactor was not anonymous but no one would have been the wiser if he had simply settled his own bill at the gas station without putting a little something extra into Rebecca's car's tank.
The young man expected nothing in return, but Rebecca did the right thing by thanking the young man and letting his boss know about his kindness. She'd been grumpy that day, she wrote, and the young man's gesture made her feel happy. It makes me feel happy too.
Now, it's time to tell me your story. What story from your life captures a moment when you stepped up to do the right thing for someone else, regardless of whether you received recognition? Or, when have you been the recipient of such an act?
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues.
Do you have ethical questions that you need to have answered? Send them to email@example.com.
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