Brand building through storytelling

May I help you?

I have just spent a weekend unpacking from a move. You can picture the results: armfuls of cut-up boxes and a mountain of overstuffed garbage bags full of junk I should have tossed long ago. Late Sunday night, I made what felt like the hundred-and-forty-seventh trip to the garbage room of our new condominium. I was wondering how many more trips I had to go and whether my back would hold out when I heard a friendly voice call, “Let me help you.”

My helper was a man in a wheelchair, and I’d always figured that people in wheelchairs should be getting a hand from me. But he took hold of the door with such disarming assurance that I sailed through feeling grateful.

Helping someone takes more effort from a wheelchair. My new neighbour had to roll inside the garbage room with me and then he had to manoeuvre around the cardboard I’d already left. I doubt if he thought twice about this, but for me it’s still a comforting memory. I’m glad to live in a community where people look out for one another.

There’s a trendy name for what happened that night: random act of kindness. A slew of Web sites urge us to build a better world by helping other people (check out www.actsofkindness.org). Oprah joined the movement on her TV show: while driving through a toll booth with the cameras rolling, she paid the tolls for the dumbfounded drivers behind her. This past summer, four buff young Canadians created their own kind of media event with the Extreme Kindness Bus Tour (www.extremekindness.com). They drove across the country being thoughtful—feeding the hungry here, entertaining sick children there. The idea behind this very public explosion of old-fashioned neighbourliness is that good deeds inspire goodness.

Well, true enough. But there’s something about the kindness movement that leaves me just a bit uneasy. It’s about us and our power to give. It doesn’t have a lot to say about the gifts we receive every day from other people, in the most unlikely places, if we’re willing step back and let their own powers take precedence.

A woman I’ll call Sarah thought she’d do a good turn for some homeless people she met early one morning in the parking garage under her gym. The next day, she sought them out again, bearing warm clothes, blankets and a Thermos of coffee. On day three, it was her turn to receive a gift. Her friends were waiting for her with sponges and a bucket of soapy water. While she was pumping iron, they washed her car. Their pride in being able to help left a deep impression on Sarah.

I don’t wonder that they made the effort. Kindness is part of our social currency. No one is ever without dignity while helping another person. And the instinct to help endures to the end, as I discovered while my mother lay dying of a brain tumour. She could not speak or even open her eyes. One terrible day, a nurse told me, “Your mother is a very special person. I’m glad to know her.”

I shot back that the person in the bed was not my mother and that the nurse couldn’t possibly know the vibrant, large-hearted woman I had lost. The nurse explained gently, “I can tell a lot about a person by what happens when I lift them. Some people fight me and some people help me. Your mother is a helper.”

There’s a lot I’d like to do in 2003 to brighten my corner of the world. I could reconnect with absent friends. I could give more gifts and write more encouraging notes. I could also let other people do kind things for me. It can be hard to admit that I’m not strong enough, smart enough or organized enough to meet every need on my own. But I’ll be making the effort.

First published in Chatelaine, January, 2003. Copyright Rogers Media Publishing. Used by permission.

Posted by Rona

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