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.
- 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?