Stranger Love

Like butterflies flitting from flower to flower, there are numerous people who land briefly in our lives.  Typically the interaction is short and routine.  Occasionally we find one of these people to be a positive outlier who does not behave in a routine manner.

On a flight home, I noticed an attendant who was perhaps 40 years old.  As he greeted each person he seemed to do so with a sense of concern.  I remember thinking, “That’s odd.  He really seems to care.”
During the boarding process, I overheard several short conversations and each time he framed the discussion in a positive way.  Later, he even framed the snacks he offered in a positive way.  It was tempting to see his work as an act, a positive deception.  Yet I never felt deceived.  In fact, I felt I was encountering a sincere expression of his best self.
In the exiting process, I overheard a passenger ask him where he would be for Thanksgiving.  He responded, “Oh, I am going to be working in a soup kitchen.”
As I walked by him, I looked him in the eye and with genuine appreciation I said, “You did a superb job.”
He looked me in the eye, and with genuine appreciation he said, “Thank you, I deeply appreciate those words.”  It was clear we both meant what we said.
Once someone asked what it was like to be a flight attendant, and a woman responded, “I want you to put the biggest smile possible on your face.  Now hold it for four hours.”  Her point was that her job required the positive presentation of self to strangers.  It was an obligation and often had to be forced.  Giving continuous positive energy is work that depletes.  I call this work “stranger love.”
Pondering stranger love raises an important question.  What if we transcend obligation?  What if we learned to authentically give away our best self?  Could we see others carry our investment away and pay into the network of human connectedness and multiply?  What if acting in behalf of the collective self-interest actually is in our self-interest?
From a perspective of conventional assumptions, the proposition is ridiculous.  Yet if we leave the conventional world and live for an extended period of time in stranger love, might we mature into new wisdom and see loops that renew and reenergize?
On that flight, the attendant was like a butterfly pollinating flowers.  His unique affirmative presentation of self caused me to notice and to think and to evolve a sense of admiration and inspiration.
Two days have passed, and I am writing about him, a leader who created in me a desire to be better.  If you are reading this, you are pollinated and there is a chance that today you will do something you might not have otherwise done.  The great network thus becomes more abundant.  Perhaps the flight attendant understands this and perhaps he finds renewal in the belief that making the world better makes him better.  In fact, for the few that evolve to his level of purpose, it does.
I am grateful for the notion of stranger love and for the man who modeled it.  Because of him, I hope to better live it and thus more deeply understand it.  I hope to better promote it.  Thank you to the flight attendant who turned my mind to the concept of stranger love.

Reflection

  • What is your definition of stranger love?
  • Is it is possible to have a culture in which employees regularly deliver stranger love to customers?
  • What could you do today to practice stranger love?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

8 comments on “Stranger Love

  1. This is a a fantastic read. Thank you for sharing!
    What this flight attendant demonstrated reminds me of Erving Goffman’s The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Though in an authentic way, rather than, as you say, an obligated way.
    I forget the exact details, but I recall reading someone many years ago about a Zen Master that was invited to speak on a campus. The professor looked out the window and saw the master walking towards the building and was arrested by the pure peace in every step he took. It was like a oneness with all of life. Since receding that I have strove to walk in such a way, in harmony with my surroundings. So all who see me will be put at ease; free to Be. I fail nearly every day, but in the moments when I succeed it’s worth every misstep.
    Peace — Jonas
    Facilitator of Fascination & Purveyor of Positivity PositivityMagic . com
    “I help individuals and teams achieve the next level of Enjoyment & Excellence by guiding them through the 5 Stages of Happiness—from Fascination to Joy!”
    >

    1. Jonas, I saw your site, and I just wanted to share that I love the art that has your name in red letters as you perform for an audience. Tell the artist if you can 😉

  2. Thanks Jonas. The part of your entry I love the most is “I fail every day.” It seems to me that is a crucial sentence. We aspire to high levels of performance and we are continually pulled back. The ability to persist despite constant failure is absolutely key. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Thanks so much for this! I’m a flight attendant and this is a good reminder that I’m blessed to have so many opportunities to interface with the world and make a difference in real peoples’ lives. The thing that has helped me a lot is the realization that my attitude is a matter of habit. When I look for positive energy I find it and when I look for negative energy, of course, I find that too. You are right that being a flight attendant takes a lot of emotional energy, and unfortunately, too many flight attendants set out unconsciously to find the one guy on every flight they are going to be pissed off by. When I’m boarding, on the other hand, I’m wondering who might be coming on board that will teach me something new, or open my mind, or even become my friend. In 2002 I met a German guy who I have been all over the world with, climbing mountains in Chile and Iceland and many more. In 2006 I met a French guy that invited me to his home in Montpelier, France with a bunch of his other friends and we all repeated that again in 2016. I would like to believe that my positive energy has helped other people too!
    I’d like to leave you with a link to a particularly poignant story I wrote about a very impactful interaction I had a number of years ago. It’s called “The Story of Jimmy Brazell”: https://craigssenseofwonder.wordpress.com/2012/11/25/flight-attendant-tales-volume-one/
    Thanks again!
    Craig brown

    1. Craig,
      Thank you for a treasure box of great insights. Two particularly powerful lines stay with me.
      “When I’m boarding, on the other hand, I’m wondering who might be coming on board that will teach me something new, or open my mind, or even become my friend.”
      This is such a strong orientation to growth. It leads an observation that illustrates how the perceptive respond to such openness.

  4. Jonas’ story and stranger love recalls the loving kindness mantra of my life. It came from a stranger to me whom I met for she, a photographer and meditator in Atlanta, was introduced by my daughter-in-law Sarah and a son, Derek. Kem Lee took me through a few hours of returning to life after I disrespected and corrupted myself following my wife’s accidental auto death 3 years ago. The framework of thinking she introduced, kindly and gently, became my beacon of life. It stands today. All from stranger love that renewed my SPEM — spiritual, physical, emotional and mental being. Larry Eiler, Ann Arbor

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