That title is a little bit misleading, I suppose. It’s not only the seminars that I hate. It’s the books, the webinars, CDs, the daily affirmations…really anything that styles itself as your personal guide to reinventing yourself in 20-minutes a Day, 10 Easy Moves, 30 Days, or Step By Step. Come on. Be honest. Do you really think this is your answer?
It’s not that I don’t want to be a good (or even a better) person. I’m nice – I try not to swear in front of kids, I don’t intentionally write bad checks, I return money when you’ve given me too much change, and I hold open doors for people.
And not just the elderly, or people with packages, either. I hold them for everyone, because not doing it is rude, and really, am I ever in that much of a hurry? Is there a woman in her 30th hour of labor waiting on me at the top of the building? Is there someone in need of the Heimlich in a roomful of armless people down the hall? Do I have the antidote in my purse? Seriously – slow down.
Same thing applies for stopping for pedestrians, holding the elevator and waving thanks to the nice guy who slowed down enough for me to squeak my car through onto the side street. Is any of that hard? Will you miss the plane to pick up your Nobel Prize if you take the time to do these things?
As far as being a better person, it seems all it really takes is slowing to hell down and thinking.
Several years ago, I attended a seminar in Philadelphia with a group of people I worked with and for. For three days, we heard about how to be better, how to be grateful, how to be charitable and how to achieve your dreams.
What made the greatest impact on me? The homeless people. While the seminar attendants jockeyed for a place in line at the Starbucks inside the hotel, the minimum wage clerk at the Dunkin Donuts a block down gave a pair of used running shoes to a man with bare feet.
Every day at lunch my co-workers and I would stroll through the open air market, looking for something unique, something healthy, something organic, or locally grown with which to fill our stomachs, so recently appeased with the croissants and Danishes from the seminar lobby. And every day we strolled past the same homeless woman, (man? We were never sure.) sitting in a wheelchair, covered with and surrounded by bag after bag of stuff, digging through the garbage can on the corner.
And to be honest, I was a bit of a pussy about them, especially after dark. Born and raised in a state so remote, most people don’t know where it is, I had very little experience with true homelessness. Not like that. So in the evenings I scurried down the street to the corner store of coffee shop with one eye on the plate glass windows to make sure no one was too close, that I wasn’t being followed.
But it made an impact. Much greater than the famous speakers explaining how important it is to be charitable, but to pay yourself first.
And when we went out to dinner that last night, discussing all that we learned, how we could go back to our nice houses and make ourselves better people, all I could think about while eating my lobster ravioli was how it would feel to be truly hungry.
And as my boss signed for the several hundred dollar check, I asked if we could have our waiter pack all of our leftovers to go.
“We’re getting on a plane,” they said, politely pointing out the logistical issue, rather than my perceived gluttony of wanting seven rounds of leftovers boxed up.
“I know. I’m going to leave them in the subway, on top of the garbage cans. That’s a lot of food that’s still good; some of the homeless here would love it.”
No one argued, not one of them questioned my motives, but I’m pretty sure that they thought they had gotten their money’s worth, that the $500 dollar a head seminar had made that big of an impression on me. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I was drawing cartoons during the seminar, and that it was reality that made an impact.
Overall, it was very nearly nothing. But everyone else was just trying to hard to find a way to be good that they missed the point. Or if not the point, than the chance.