“A Box of Crayons Changed Everything”

I know the answer to the question, “Where were you on the day JFK was shot?” I was getting ready to leave my fourth grade classroom with Mrs. Hoffman and my classmates at Jackson Elementary School in Ohio to head home from a day of student toil. The announcement came from the principal over the brown, wooden, high gloss varnished loud speaker box that hung above the chalkboard in every classroom. That speaker was there for daily announcements that all little kids needed to know (like what’s for lunch), and for sharing important announcements (like parent teacher conferences) or the siren that occasionally blared ‘telling’ us to hurry to the bomb shelters to practice our nuclear holocaust drills.

I grew up in a sea of change in the United States from 1954 to my high school graduation in 1973. I didn’t know how turbulent the times where. It is only in retrospect that we learn the lessons of our lives and the power of those days unfolding around us.

These years carried many national events that changed this country and the world. In 1960, American advisers were sent to South Vietnam and would be followed by US troops in 1965. In 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becomes the first man to orbit Earth in a spacecraft and the race was on toward the heavens. Kennedy was shot in 1963. The first men landed on the moon in 1969 (I was in Washington DC that night at my mom’s relative Joyce’s house while we were on family vacation; the landing beaming at us from the Black and White TV set), and Woodstock drew 400,000 people to experience flower power and love. In 1970, Ohio National Guard soldiers fired on (and killed) Kent State University students protesting against the US invasion of Cambodia (just a stone’s throw from my home and where my mother graduated from college) and Vietnam ended for the US in 1973 (and I was thankful as a high school senior since my selective service draft number was in the top ten to go to Southeast Asia to serve in an unpopular war).

But there was a part of my life I didn’t know anything about growing up in an all white world. I didn’t really understand the civil rights movement. It was happening around me, but I was not paying attention to it because of school, football, girls, and well, girls. There were society altering events going on like the Jobs and Freedom March on Washington in 1963, the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965, and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy in 1968. Except for Kennedy’s death, the social plight of my fellow Americans went undetected by me as I tried to make sense of a white teenager’s life.

I sit now, at another point in my life….where the world has converged and I have chosen to know that history of the civil rights and the freedoms sought and fought for by my African American brothers and sisters. It was sparked by my now 18 year old biracial African American daughter when she was only 5 years old. We were coloring a picture one day after a preschool lesson on MLK when she said, “Martin Luther King was a great man.” “Yes,” I replied…”a very great man,” figuring this had been the subject of some preschool celebration. “I am glad he worked hard,” she continued. “Yes,” I replied as we filled in the lines of the picture. “I am glad he lived so I could not be afraid and be free.” That statement from my brown skinned African American daughter startled me. At five, she had connected with a time in history I knew nothing about because she already, somehow, identified with the skin tone of MLK and what he preached 30 years before her birth. Tears began softly rolling down my cheeks. “Yes,” I said…”you don’t have to be afraid and you are free.” That exchange over a box of Crayola Crayons changed my life and brought me fully into the time I had overlooked as a young man growing up in a world I did not really understand.

I have chosen these last 13 years to honor MLK day, not just on that day alone, but by reading books written by African Americans, and trying to understand this time in the history of our nation (and world). I try to understand this world from the perspective of my African American son-in-law for the sake of him and for my biracial grandsons. And I choose to consider this for my 18 year old daughter who is “free and does not need to be afraid.” I need to protect that for her and others intentionally….not simply by chance.

So on this day, I invite you to begin by watching the “I Have a Dream” speech of MLK from August 1963 in Washington DC. These 17 minutes are an important place to start. The speech of Martin Luther King Jr., is essential for us all. As he says in it “our destinies and freedom are intertwined.” It is a truth I missed long ago, which I will not miss again.

Blessings to you for this day. Grace and peace as you more fully come to understand the fullest meaning of our Declaration of Independence when our fore bearers wrote: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” July 4, 1776

David Neidert

Choosing Joy

Try to guess what ails me.  You won’t see it because it is inside of me.  From outward appearances, I look good (if I do say so myself).  Yet I ache, all the time, from an injury that shattered my femur, the largest bone in the human body.  Surgery, a metal rod with screws, and a metal band put me together.  Four months of rehab and therapy bring me today—about 85% of my former self.  My final doctor visit tells me “this is as good as it is going to get.”  It is now a time of ongoing ache, back pain, and fatigue, as well as a little hitch in my step that those closest to me see, especially when I am tired.

This has been a year of lessons for me.  The first relates to what we cannot see.  I no longer look at people the same.  They may look just fine on the outside, but “you cannot tell a book by its cover.”  I have come in contact now with many people with hidden physical, emotional, or mental hurts in their lives.  Most simply go about life without complaint.  They might easily be judged by external appearances, but they carry burdens most would never want to bump into during life.  So, I have learned that most people carry hidden burdens which require my grace in how I might interact with them.

The second lesson I have learned deals with personal choices about my “lot in life.”  I could choose to be bitter, vindictive, a constant complainer to everyone who would listen.  But I have chosen to not talk about my situation, except on occasions with those who are close to me and understand my daily feelings.  Otherwise, you won’t know my internal aches, pains, and mental state that comes from being as “good as I am going to get” after this devastating accident.

I have chosen this because of my faith and in echo with the Apostle Paul “to be content in whatever state of being I find myself.”  I trust God daily for the strength I have and the situation I am in.  I know he was there with me at the moment of my accident, the surgery, the recovery, the long and distressing days of rehab, and now everyday—he knows my frame and I trust that by faith.  I choose to believe God’s good will ultimately prevails in what I experience each day.

Charles W. Naylor, a practical theologian out of my own faith tradition, wrote a book “The Secret of the Singing Heart.”  This book has been encouraging to me—and I think it might be to you also—in this new season of my life.  Naylor was injured in the prime of his career as an evangelist.  He was traveling around the country in the early part of the 1900s.  He was sought after for the power of his teaching and preaching.  Life couldn’t have been better.  But, he was injured in an accident that left him confined (I use that word literally of this period of time) for the next 41 years.  Yet, in time, he saw that he had a choice to make about life; he chose it to be one of optimism and living faithfully, even from a darkened room where he lay day after day.  He changed lives of those who came and sat with him.  He believed in life, goodness, and the present we all must encounter.

Naylor once wrote, “Long ago I determined to be happy.  I determined to be happy no matter what happened and no matter what condition I might be in or what my circumstances might be.”  What are the circumstances of your own life?  What choices are you making about them?  What prejudices and judgments might you make of others when you do not know their “lot in life?”  Fellow life pilgrims, I invite you to choose grace as we live with each other.  I invite you to extend grace to others when you encounter them who do not appear as you might want.  You will never guess the ailments of most people, but if we extend grace to them we might lift another human’s burden, even if it just be for a moment.  And I hope you, too, choose to live well in the circumstances you find in your own life.  Choose to live with joy at what is present with you.  Make the best of what is happening in your day today so that you might experience potentially brighter tomorrows.

Blessings for you this day. Grace and Peace.

David Neidert

Pay It Forward Customer Service

                Serving others is not all that complex. We make it harder than it really is. I’ve seen flow charts, graphs, and PowerPoints explaining the “ins and outs” and “does and don’ts” of customer service.  I will admit, as a trainer during my life, I have drawn a few of these charts and explained others myself.  It is useful to know the structures and what makes for effective customer service.  But eventually we make customer service about techniques and at times gimmicks, instead of considering it is about relationships and being human toward each other.

                In over two decades, I have trained 20,000 people through the college classroom, community seminars, one-on-one opportunities, and through the written page.  I have come to a place of now knowing what brings lasting customer service.  I call it “pay it forward” customer service.

                This relationship with people is based on only two points: remembering you will die and extending the grace you have been given in your life.  These two points are human relationship focused, not a lot of techniques in them.  Just two simple principles to remember and practice.  Let me explain both because while they seem ridiculous and maybe too naïve, they require courage and a way of being and becoming that demands our best efforts.

                Remembering you will die.  Why this as a principle, you might wonder?  Remembering we will die keeps us from forgetting that most of what we get upset about in life doesn’t matter.  There are some things that are really important like family, friends, faith, justice and other matters, but most of what we experience day-by-day will have no value in the scope of eternity.  By remembering to focus on the big stuff and letting the trivial go helps us to live a bit more peacefully and with evenness.  If we can remember the little inconveniences of life will not matter tomorrow (and help others keep all things in perspective, too) we may find places of connection with people that are not technique driven.  Through keeping a proper perspective about issues of life, we can focus on the relationships and not the quirks of broken tools, seams that come undone on a blouse, food that is under or over prepared, a billing that isn’t quite right, and a thousand more inconveniences which often frustrate our lives.  Knowing we will die keeps perspective—what matters and what will be forgotten in a few hours or days.

                Extending grace to others just as you have received grace.  ALL of us—EVERY ONE–has received grace, unmerited kindness or favor, at a point in our lives.   Maybe someone said, “Oh, that’s okay…we will let it slide.”  Or, “that’s okay, we all have bad days.”  Or maybe, “that’s alright; it can happen to anyone.”  We have ALL been given grace at some moment in our lives for an act that was less than stellar.  If we remember this experience and feeling as we engage others, we can make current circumstances potentially better in how we relate to people.  If we could simply recall our own attitudes, mindsets, and behaviors at the time of encountering another person with a “poor attitude” and the grace that might have been extended to us in similar situations, then we might actually make a happenstance better—paying the grace we received forward to the person standing in front of us.

                Customer service is ultimately about relationships.  It is about building solid relationships with people that brings ongoing connection to our organizations and companies over time.  Customer service based solely on technique or campaigns will only work until another technique or campaign becomes more appealing to the client from another enterprise.  Relationships built on perspective and grace, however, can last a lifetime and weather the most unnerving of situations.

                Serving people doesn’t have to be all that hard.  We just make it hard because we forget to keep it all in perspective and we withhold the grace given us from another person.  Pay it forward customer service is about being human, filled with graciousness, and knowing that in the end, most of what actually frustrates us doesn’t matter in the scheme of the really critical life and world issues.

                Blessings, grace and peace to you—personally—as you try to become a person who is full of grace and one who keeps all of life in perspective.  You will be different, you can make the world around you different, and you can pay that forward to others, too, who will also be different in time.  A world based on proper perspective and grace….just consider the possibilities.

David Neidert