I’ve been thinking lately about how interconnected we are. I know Seth Godin’s book about tribes was a big hit because it talked about the power each of us has to be a leader. We don’t need to sit around waiting for the people in positions of power to step up and lead. But what if you haven’t actively created a tribe? Are you still in one?
Of course you are. It’s the tribe of connection and crossing paths. I love movies that speculate about what would have happened to the world if you hadn’t been born and done the things you’ve done. What is the chain reaction you’ve set in place just by being alive? It’s the story of “It’s a Wonderful Life” (which was made with a very small budget and sat on a shelf for years before it was ever seen. Talk about irony!)
One of the first business lessons I ever learned came from watching my Dad ask a waitress for more coffee. He called her by name and politely asked for a refill when she could make it over. How did he know a waitress in a Stuckey’s road stop diner in the middle of Iowa? He taught me that everyone has a name and you should use it and treat them like they matter…because they do. Today we call them “gatekeepers.” In his case, she was the gatekeeper to more coffee. When I worked in politics, the Congressman’s receptionist was the gatekeeper to an appointment so I made sure to create a relationship, not just nod politely.
But there are so many other people who are not gatekeepers who squirt the WD40 into our busy, squeaky, noisy lives. And sometimes, the person we can’t see, or choose not to see, could be in a position to save our life.
That’s what happened to Vietnam P.O.W. Charlie Plumb.
Captain Charlie Plumb graduated from the Naval Academy at Annapolis and went on to fly the F-4 Phantom jet on 74 successful combat missions over Vietnam. On his 75th mission, with only five days before he was to return home, Plumb was shot down, captured, tortured, and imprisoned in an 8 foot x 8 foot cell. He spent the next 2,103 days as a Prisoner Of War in communist war prisons.
Many years later, Captain Plumb and his wife were in a diner when a man came up to him and asked, “Aren’t you Charlie Plumb?” He answered that he was and then asked how this gentleman knew him. The stranger told the Captain that he has been a seaman on the aircraft carrier from which Charlie flew his planes. You see, when Plumb was shot down, it was within sight of the ship and he put himself into the path of a North Vietnamese fighter plane in order to protect the US ship.
Since Captain Plumb didn’t remember the man, he asked him what sort of position he had held on the ship. The man replied, “I was in charge of packing your parachute.” Charlie had been the hero fighter pilot who saved a ship full of men, but this lowly seaman was the reason Charlie Plumb was alive to tell the story. From that moment on Captain Charlie Plumb made it his purpose to recognize and thank all the “little people” who did things to make his life easier. The lesson he learned is that no matter how important he thought he was, it was a lonely seaman whom he probably walked past 15 times a day who had ultimately saved his life.
So the question for you is, who is packing your parachute? Who are all the people with the “little” jobs who make it possible for you to get where you need to go and do what you need to do, and do you really stop to thank them?
Well, most of us are pretty decent people. We respond to the friendly cashier and the friendly dry cleaner and go back to the friendly nail salon. But there are a lot of other people in the shadows of our lives: the person who stocks the shelves during the night so that we can grab and go in the morning; the person who arrives at the Starbuck’s at 5:00 AM to turn on the cappuccino machine and the heat so that when you arrive at 7:00 all systems are go; the person who drives a tanker truck to refill the gasoline tanks so that you can fill up your car at the corner quick mart.
You may never get a chance to see them, but reflect for a moment and squirt some WD40 appreciation back into their lives. After all, you might be the rocket scientist who invented the smart phone that they use to navigate their lives, or the pre-school teacher who loves on their kids. We’re all interconnected, we just need to be mindful of the squeaks that come when we stop being appreciative. Send out good vibes of appreciation and experience how much it changes you as well.