Joe is a client at the largest homeless shelter in Canada, where I was working as an Adult Care Worker at the time. Joe had been on a bit of a bender that night, which wasn’t totally unusual, but what was unusual was how he got there.
I looked over at him as he lay on the floor of the lobby, because we had run out of sleeping mats, and there he was with a tube of hair gel in his mouth as he was seeking some more “medication” to help him through his pain. From a policy standpoint, I needed to confiscate his chosen inebriant, and I did so. He soon passed out. Having seen hairspray, mouthwash, glue, whiteboard cleaner fluid, and even Lysol used as a method of intoxication, it was unusual to see different types of intoxicants, but it was rare to see hair gel. However, people will go to incredible lengths to cope with the pain within.
As he continued to share his feelings and emotions, I knew I needed to let him just pour it all out before he would come anywhere close to being mentally or emotionally ready to hear anything I had to say.
A few hours later, Joe woke up. He seemed to have sobered up a little. At that point, he made quiet motions to me to come over to him. Not knowing what he needed, I came over and he began to break. Weeping and crying, he told me how sad he was in his life, and how disappointed he was with where he had ended up. He was laboring under the pain of a serious workplace injury that hindered his ability to be and do what he loves: to hard work and provide for his family. As so many of us would do when faced with life-debilitating circumstances, and career-ending injuries, Joe turned to alcohol and drugs to try to medicate the pain of what he perceived to be his useless life. In his broken sobs, he communicated to me that he was suicidal and that he was right on the edge of ending it all. He continued to pour out his heart and share details of his pain, and how he felt boxed in with no other choice in coping with that pain except by ending his life. As he continued to share his feelings and emotions, I knew I needed to let him just pour it all out before he would come anywhere close to being mentally or emotionally ready to hear anything I had to say.
About 45 minutes later, I knew my opportunity was there. I can’t remember exactly what I said, and I can’t remember what he said back, but all I know is, when we were done, Joe had decided he would live for another day. I do remember communicating to him his incredible worth and value, that he is uniquely precious and indispensable to his family who know and love him. We discussed his significance and importance as a human being at great length.
I also remember speaking with Joe about the fact that life often does suck… that we are often handed terrible sets of circumstances simultaneously that we have no power or control over, and that we did not in and of ourselves cause.
But, though this is 100% true, what is also 100% true is we are always 100% responsible for how we handle ourselves in those circumstances, and 100% able to make small changes in the right direction. Enough small course corrections in the right direction soon add up to sea change of life transformation, precisely what Joe wanted anyways. I’ll Never Truly Know Why Joe Chose Me…
Clearly, it was not my insight as a counselor or brilliance as a life coach that helped Joe that night. Looking back, I know he chose to open up to me and then grant me the privilege of speaking into his life because he could sense that there was some level of genuine care, understanding and compassion. And, maybe the hair gel hadn’t quite worn off…
A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.
My point is this: Margaret Mead said that, “A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” We all have the opportunity to change the world around us, no matter how worthy or equipped we feel about embracing this priceless privilege. We have the beautiful honor of making a difference with our words and actions and attitudes, and we never know when we will be called upon to take the stage and do this, as I was with Joe that night. I did not at all feel worthy or qualified to do this, because of my own struggles, defeats, questions, and limitations. At that time in my life, I too was suicidal. I had sustained some major adversities and major failures, and so I was broken. Bankrupt. Bereft of vision, hope and dreams. I had nothing to live for, in my mind, and everything to die for.
But that night was not about Abe Brown… it was about Joe and making a difference for him. So many times we limit ourselves to NOT making a difference because we have fallen here, or wrestled there, or struggled here. We need to get over ourselves and seize those moments when people present us with the prospect of making a difference in them and for them.
On the surface of who and what I am, I have no idea why Joe chose me that night. But I know what it accomplished: One less suicide that night (Joe), and two more people given hope for another day (Joe and Abe Brown). When we change the world around us, one person at a time, we also change our internal world! Not only was Joe given life and hope for another day, but by somehow helping a precious and valuable human being, so was I. Please, for your sake and the sake of others, remember that…
All that really matters in this life is relationships and people. Over and over, when I close my eyes, I remember a funeral I did many years ago when I was a full-time minister. I was conducting the funeral for a man who had passed in his 70’s, and at his funeral, there were precisely 3 people there: one mourner, one funeral director (from the funeral home), and one minister (me). Two of the three were paid to be there. 70 years lived, and one person attending the funeral of a man in his 70’s who was not paid to be there.
As a 23-year old, this experience shook me to my core. I knew at that moment that the most important thing in life is people.
As a 23-year old, this experience shook me to my core. I knew at that moment that the most important thing in life is people. Success, effectiveness and reach can only be measured by the people we serve, the lives we touch, and the impact we make. Truly no joy is equal to that of putting a smile on someone’s face, supporting them to achieve a goal or precious thing, or helping them to simply believe in themselves and get unstuck. This is the true stuff of fulfilled living: giving, serving and empowering people. I hope our focus isn’t on making more money, but serving more people. The truth is that as we seek to serve more people, generally, more money will follow. My focus is serving people, because all that really matters is relationships and people.
One of the best ways to Make a Difference with People Every Day is by cultivating “presence”. Presence is being fully present. Being integral. Being authentic. Being genuine. Be fully present by showing up with positive energy. Do the self-care it takes to offer your very best self every single day. Presence is about recognizing your own emotional state and the emotional states of others. Presence is also about engaging with others in ways that draw people to you.
How can we develop “Presence”? By our body language. 90% of all communication is not verbal, but non-verbal. “Non-verbal communication”, what you say with your body, actions, and expressions accounts for up to 90% of our communication. This means that if we are to demonstrate presence with people, we need to be visual. We must communicate it non-verbally:
- Our Eyes Communicate Presence or Distance – by a simple glance, we communicate engagement or distance.
- Our Facial Expressions Communicate Presence or Distance – do our expressions make people feel engagement or distance, i.e. do we smile regularly, look at people when they’re speaking, and communicate interest?
- Our Physical Posture Communicates Presence or Distance – With simple movement, we communicate engagement or distance.
- Our Words Communicate Presence or Distance – So, let’s speak life. If we want to influence people, we need to speak only life. The tongue has the power of life and death. Creative power is released with but a word. We can literally create life and hope and healing and growth with our words, or we can bring despair, discouragement, and negativity. Energy flows through our words. Socrates said, “Let him that would move the world first move himself”.
- Our Energy Communicates Presence or Distance – Are we emanating warmth and engagement, or boredom and disinterest?
Og Mandino said this: “Beginning today, treat everyone you meet as if they were going to be dead by midnight. Extend them all the care, kindness and understanding you can muster. Your life will never be the same again.” A big person is one who makes us feel bigger when we are with them. Robert Orben said that, “A compliment is verbal sunshine”.
Stephen Covey, the author of, “The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People”, said that, “If I were to summarize in one sentence the single most important principle I have learned in the field of interpersonal relations, it would be this: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. This principle is the key to effective interpersonal communication.”
It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration, I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal.
As leaders, we are in the people business: Be Present. People are our business, and are the most important part of all we do. Dale Carnegie said: “Even in such technical lines as engineering, about 15% of one’s financial success is due one’s technical knowledge and about 85% is due to skill in human engineering, to personality and the ability to lead people.” Choose one of the principles here to apply right away, in your leadership. Apply the rest of the principles each and every day. The people around you will benefit exponentially.
I want to close with one of my favorite quotes from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration, I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated, and a person is humanized or de-humanized. If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.”
Note: Though the story shared above is entirely accurate, the name Joe is made up to protect the identity of the true person in this real-life story.
Abe Brown is the Coach’s Coach, and the President of the Certified Coaches Federation (www.certifiedcoachesfederation.com). He is also the Founder and President of Momentum Coaching www.momentumcoaching.ca. The Certified Coaches Federation has trained and certified over 13,000 Life and Executive Coaches in the last 10 years, and Momentum Coaching has experienced triple digit growth for several years running. Abe does Leadership and Executive Coaching, and works with organizations around strategic planning, cultivating fully engaged employees, and facilitating coaching and training programs.