While driving on the freeway at 60 miles per hour, there is a loud pop sound. You realize you have a flat tire and hope to make it safely to the next exit without destroying the rim of your vehicle. Once you make it, you exit the vehicle to take a look. Yes, it’s a flat tire. You are tired. It is hot. You are a female in an unknown area.
You watch a man hobble past who appears to be homeless. Another man is riding through the parking lot on a city-owned, borrowed bicycle with bags in the bike basket. He is middle-aged, sweaty and a little scruffy. The man announces that he is just the one to help you. You are a little bit nervous. He also appears to be a homeless person. Without permission, he crawls under the back of your pickup truck to assist you with removing the spare tire. It is a difficult job. It doesn’t come loose easily. It doesn’t come loose really at all. You ask this man his name. His name is Paul. He huffs and puffs as he diligently works, but that doesn’t loosen the stubborn tire.
You worry a little about your purse in the vehicle knowing that you’ve left several of the truck doors open while removing the jack. You know the other homeless man is wandering around somewhere nearby. You feel bad for thinking this way and try to stay focused on helping with the task in between your worry moments. You push the tire upward to help Paul as he pulls and prods the tire, dedicated to freeing it. You realize you are parked precariously. At the time you arrived, you were just relieved to get the truck into a gas station parking lot. It is not in a parking space.
As you continue to work on the tire, a huge older model boat-like car attempts to pass between your truck and the gas pump but is unsuccessful. A loud metal scraping sound occurs. The car backs up to disengage from a huge metal post designed to protect the gas pumps. The heavily tattooed man driving the boat has a look of utter frustration and disgust as he slowly makes his way through this obstacle course your truck has created.
Meanwhile, a man dressed in business casual attire consisting of black slacks, a gray polo and nice Italian shoes arrives and offers his help. He works with Paul, trying to remove the tire also without success. A decision is made to look at the owner’s manual for any clue related to this nasty and seemingly impossible task. The homeless man continues sweating and working hard, attempting to remove the tire.
The businessman begins to read the manual, criticizing and cursing the instructions for not being clear about which part is which. You assist him in deciphering the instructions and realize together that there is a very easy way to complete this task of removing the spare tire. It didn’t even initially involve crawling under the car to turn, pull, twist and yank the gadget that would not budge. The homeless hard-working man quickly and freely gives praise to the businessman by saying “this is a very smart man” proudly.
Now that the spare tire is free, you observe the driver of the boat-sized car parked at one of the gas pumps, glancing your way several times. Simultaneously, the homeless man and the businessman focus on the task of removing lug nuts, but the last one is stubborn. The boat-like vehicle driver with lots of tattoos heads your way. You’re worried he will be upset with you about your vehicle not being parked properly and his vehicle getting damaged a few moments ago.
The tattooed man asks about a need for help. He is the only one able to loosen that last lug nut in the moment of crisis. He acknowledges that your jack is likely not sufficient for this task and brings his monstrous jack to once again help make your situation successful, mentioning nothing about his vehicle damaged while trying to avoid your poorly parked truck.
The tire is changed. As the tools are being gathered and stored, you thank the men profusely. You thank the tattooed man as he retreats to his vehicle with his giant jack.
You feel compelled to offer more to the tattooed man, so you open your truck door to get money from your purse. You proceed to follow the man who is already getting into his damaged vehicle. From the passenger’s side, you offer your only twenty dollar bill, thank him again, and apologize that his car was damaged while trying to avoid your truck. He seems totally surprised by this gesture.
You return to the truck, the homeless man and the businessman. You repeatedly thank them again. You try to hand a ten dollar bill to the businessman, but he politely refuses. You pass a handful of dollar and five dollar bills to Paul, the homeless man. He tells you that he didn’t expect anything, but was just there to help. You let him know that you realize that and are very thankful for him. You offer the sweaty man a hug and he accepts.
The businessman appears to be moved emotionally as evidenced by removing a twenty dollar bill from his wallet and handing it to the homeless man. Paul is moved and offers the businessman a hug which he hesitantly accepts. As you leave this scenario with a rugged, but wonderful, spare tire installed, you can’t help but reflect on the giving nature of these three men as you drive home.
A flat tire created a moment of bonding for several strangers temporarily situated in the same community whose paths will likely never cross again. It was a time of giving and receiving with no expectations attached. True and meaningful citizenship was reflected in those few moments. Wonderful life lessons in humanity and kindness were learned in the experience.
The spirit of giving has no boundaries and no limitations. No gift can be too small, and no gift can be too large. Offering time, sharing knowledge, and showing kindness and compassion are just a few ways we give to others. Whether we give or don’t give impacts others in profound ways.
With this story as a guide, let’s review a few ways to have a spirit of giving in the workplace.
Giving our time: All three men of the story gave their time to help the woman and to help the other men solve the problem of the flat tire. In workplace settings, how often do we stop what we are doing to help others solve their problem? Are we so consumed with our own obligations and responsibilities that we don’t even observe that others may need help? When we know that others need help, do we lend a helping hand to our fellow colleague?
While these are posed as hypothetical questions, let us be encouraged to open our eyes to look past our own desk so we can see the struggles of our staff and superiors. Working together to solve workplace challenges can be quite effective. Offering to stay late and provide office coverage so a co-worker can attend their child’s school function is one special way to show you care by giving your time. Accepting an extra assignment to reduce your supervisor or colleague’s obligations can provide an opportunity for them to catch-up or get-ahead on their things-to-do-list. Asking others about whether or not they need help opens the door for an overwhelmed individual to say something and get a little assistance that could reduce their stress, improve their wellbeing or even save their life. Pay it forward – just do something nice or helpful for no reason at all.
Giving our knowledge: Paul, the homeless man of the story, had knowledge of how to change a flat tire from his past experience and immediately began to diligently work at the task of changing the tire. The businessman observed Paul’s difficult time removing the tire and suggested that they read the owner’s manual. By taking his advice, they learned that what seemed like an impossible job didn’t have to be so difficult and were able to release the spare tire. The tattooed man saw and knew that the jack being used was insufficient for the job, offered his jack and created success for the team of men fixing that flat.
Sharing our information and knowledge to help others in the workplace or community can help grow an individual, program, or company. You assist others by volunteering to mentor new staff members or providing a formal training. When colleagues are baffled or confused, offering suggestions for solutions or improvements can be so helpful. Take care to first ask permission to give your input to avoid appearing bossy or like a know-it-all.
Giving our kindness and compassion: Paul freely and kindly offered praise to the businessman by saying “this is a very smart man” in response to the businessman reading the vehicle manual which led to an easier, correct way to release the spare tire. The woman hugged sweaty Paul without hesitation as a way of showing kindness, compassion and thankfulness for what he selflessly did for her. Paul hugged the businessman for the same reason. It was a moment of shared emotion.
Hugging in the workplace across the board is probably not the motto of this story, nor is it the recommendation or message meant to be conveyed. Being kind and showing compassion to others in the workplace means caring about how others feel, how others are responding or not responding, and not always personalizing their emotions in relation to ourselves. Human beings carry many experiences with them on a daily basis. Some life experiences are traumatic to us and others close to or around us. Trauma shows itself in many different ways. It doesn’t always look the same. Being aware of others in our workplace, letting them know we care and just showing human compassion and friendliness are the foundation of healthy social interaction. As you walk down the hallway of your workplace, take care to smile or say hello to the person headed in your direction. It could make all the difference in their day and world.
A spirit of giving is expressed in so many ways. Others give and we gain. We give and others gain. Others give and they gain. We give and we gain. Sharing with others can be very fulfilling because the activity lends itself to mutual rewards. Whether we give our knowledge, our compassion and kindness, or our time, hopefully, the spirit of giving continues to be quite contagious because this energy can do so much to help make and keep the world a better place.
Tracy Gaia is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.