by George Thompson
Customer service is alive and well, at least at a car dealership in Lawrence, Kansas. A couple of months ago I was car shopping, and stopped by Lawrence Kia. I met a manager who said, “What can we do to earn your business?” His question made an impact on me, and I bought a 2016 Hyundai Sonata from them that day. It has been getting 35 miles to the gallon on my commute, and I am happy.
The remote access key I got from them had been glitchy — sometimes I had to push the button six times to get the door to open. The dealership wanted to make it right, and needed my car for a few hours to program the key. I wanted to leave my car with them while I was out of town, but logistics were getting the best of me with all the commuting I do, and the flight I needed to catch. If they had my car, how would I get to work and then to the airport?
I have been experimenting with asking for help, so I presented the dilemma to Kevin, one of the used car managers. He had a solution that I had not even considered. I would drive my car to work in Olathe, 35 minutes away. He would send his driver Harvey to my office in the afternoon, and Harvey would drive with me the 40 minutes from my office to the airport, then drive my car the 50 minutes back to the dealership. A second driver would bring Harvey to my office and then return to the dealership, 35 minutes each way.
His offer blew me away. I had already bought a car from them, so their kindness could only be described as goodwill.
Goodwill seems to be a missing commodity these days — that sense that someone has gone out of their way to help you. As I was driving to the airport with Harvey, I was filled with gratitude. My heart swelled with the refrain of, “What a good world this is today.” I wondered how I could pass all this goodwill on to someone else. I could not keep that grace just for myself.
This urge to share kindness stopped my busy mind long enough to contemplate a few questions. How much consideration could we show each other? How quickly could goodwill spread? What if the world could be like this always? And why shouldn’t this come to pass?
The next few days I couldn’t help but pass the kindness along. When I saw a fellow traveler struggling to lift his bag into the overhead compartment of the plane, I stepped in to help him. I smiled at people I didn’t know. I happily created a celebration so a coworker could share his success with his team. I answered more requests with an open-hearted, “Yes!”
I acted on ways to be more generous in more challenging situations as well. When my Avatar® mentor, Avra, gave me feedback about how I could have handled a situation better, I really listened to her viewpoint and saw things from her perspective. In the past, I would have listened mostly for ways to defend what I had done. But, surprisingly, with my heart filled with gratitude from receiving and paying forward grace, I was able to stay present and hear her make good points. I hadn’t done things skillfully. I could have done better. I had made mistakes. Then the surprise offered another gift. I saw that what Avra suggested might still be possible, and so I asked her. She said yes, we could still move forward. Generous listening had opened a door that I would have never opened before, and allowed me to give my mentor the gift of accepting and using her help.
Looking back, I see how my ego has prevented me from asking for support because I don’t want to look like someone who needs help. When I stretched past my ego to ask Kevin for his ideas, I created room for the grace of his good will to arise. Requiring my Avra’s assistance to fix my mistakes threatened my pretense, but grace opened my heart past such concerns to receive her wisdom. As it turned out, I hadn’t gone to the dealership to get my key fixed, but to learn that spreading goodwill is the key to a generous spirit and unimaginable grace.
by George Thompson
"‘Why is it,’ Jonathan puzzled, ‘that the hardest thing in the world is to convince a bird that he is free, and that he can prove it for himself if he’d spend a little time practicing? Why should that be so hard?’”
— Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull
“If you fired an arrow and stopped it in its flight, and sighted along the arrow, you would see where it was going. If you stop life in its flight and sight along it, you will see that it is headed toward an enlightened planetary civilization.”
— Harry Palmer, author of the Avatar® materials.
I was in the sunroom at our house on Betsy Lane in Houston. Our family had moved in at the first of the summer, but my parents had shipped my brother John and me out of town, first to friends in Kentucky, then to cousins in Virginia, so they could pull up the orange shag carpeting to reveal hardwood floors, and cover dark paint in the kitchen with bright green wallpaper adorned with big yellow and white flowers.
It was 1970, I was 8, John was 6, and my sister Teal was about to be born. Standing in the remodeled sunroom alone, I was excited by a strong but vague feeling that there must be something more to life. I didn’t know what the “something more” was, but I was certain it existed. I knew that something good was coming. I just couldn’t tell you what. It came to me that things could be better than they were, but we would need to work at it. Yet it would be worth our extra effort.
My parents had put their efforts into improving the sunroom, and I feel the parallel between the remodeling and the lovely events I awaited. The sunroom had had cloudy plastic louvered slats all along one wall, that could be opened to let in outside air, but not much light. The house must have gotten central air at some point, because my parents replaced the sunroom louvres with big pane glass windows that gave us a view of the lush greenness of the back patio and flooded the room with stunning gulf coast light. The couch sat in front of these windows, and sometimes cradled my mother’s women’s groups. My dad had built bookshelves across the long room to anchor both ends, and they were filled with volumes about how to improve oneself mentally and spiritually.
In the freshness of that space, I knew instinctively that people could get along better, and love each other more. We could know our common nature, which lay beyond our differences, and underneath our words and actions, and from this new perspective, truly understand each other. Our conflicts could then simply vanish. Back then I could never have told you all this, even though I was feeling it, so I didn’t spend much time pondering what I sensed. It took years to name was that something was.
A remarkable thing about this feeling was how palpable it was. I could feel it surrounding me, surrounding all of us, occupying an expectant present. Its existence was terribly exciting, like the night before your birthday, or Christmas, or a trip to AstroWorld. The peculiar and disturbing thing was that no one else acted like they could feel it. During good times this puzzled me, but when I was not in such a good space, it frustrated me to no ends. Again, I could never have told you this when I was a kid, but it didn’t occur to me that everyone else was blind to the human harmony that was coming. I felt that somehow they also knew this, but were tricking me.
I am not sure how long this conviction continued, but I know that it was still much on my mind five years later. I was in seventh grade, and I wrote poems to try to put this feeling into words. I had grabbed Jonathan Livingston Seagull off a sunroom bookshelf. Jonathan had discovered that there was “more to life than eating, or fighting, or power in the Flock.” He found a way to awaken a least a few of his fellow birds to this new way of living. I bet I have read that book at least 75 times since then. My poems were an attempt to explain to myself that, like Jonathan, I had seen a remarkable vision of a beautiful future that marshaled hope and anticipation. I wanted to explore this growing recognition that I had apparently seen something that other people hadn’t. The vision was important to me, and seemed connected somehow to my purpose for being alive. At the same time, it took all my courage to move toward this experience and examine it, and I worried that even a small setback could make me lose my nerve. I wanted to explain my feelings to myself, so that I could hold them more closely to me.
When I shared the first drafts of my poems with my mother, I took a small step to show the world what I had seen. I was afraid that my mother wouldn’t understand what I was trying to say or, understanding it, would reject it. But the opposite happened. She was so proud of what my poems conveyed that she had her secretary type them up and mimeograph them so she could give them to her friends. I hadn’t told her not to share the poems — I hadn’t even considered that she might like them that much. Still, I wasn’t ready to share them with others; my insights felt too tender and fragile. I was afraid that my mother’s friends, who were all good people, would reject the vision that meant so much to me. Losing control of my attempt to voice that which I couldn’t describe unsettled me, and made me feel that I needed to brace myself each time this feeling came over me. When my parents divorced a short time later, I stopped exploring my vision-feeling altogether. I no longer had the resolve I needed to take in the experience and study it.
Years later, during a summer in medical school, I worked in Paraguay with Amigos de las Americas, a program that could transform the lives of teenagers by training them, placing them with families in Latin American villages, and giving them adult levels of responsibility. I supervised two 16-year-old boys who were in charge of immunizing children from a pueblo of farmers who used oxen to plow their fields. One of the boys was so inspired by his experience that he spent several years with the program, became one of its leaders, and took a national role with a public health organization right out of college. What happened to him felt like what I discovered 15 years earlier.