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When strangers meet and civility reigns

Man and woman shaking hands
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Barbara Bush once said, “Never lose sight of the fact that the most important yardstick of your success will be how you treat other people – your family, friends and coworkers, and even strangers you meet along the way.” I’d love to share a story about how this played out for my husband and I last weekend.

I was invited to speak at a conference in Berkeley, Calif. As I’d never visited San Francisco, this seemed like a great opportunity for a weekend escape for my husband and me.

San Francisco is known as one of the most expensive cities in the United States, but we didn’t let that deter us from enjoying the adventure of it all. The sun shone all weekend and the bridges were more breathtaking in person. We walked the famous curves of Lombard Street, hustled (briefly) alongside the tourists at the wharf and genuinely enjoyed the climb up Knob Hill and other steep destinations that Franciscans call home.

Since parking is not only expensive, it can be a nightmare, so we opted for Uber, for the first time. We found each driver to be friendly, outgoing, and eager to share tips and tricks for exploring the city they love (even though most don’t live there since they simply can’t afford the real estate or the rent).

One would think that this was happening simply because we were using their services and they must be focused on creating a meaningful customer experience that would parlay into a tip. But I don’t think that was it. It appears most have embraced the be-nice-to-others philosophy that Barbara Bush was talking about.

Our waiter the first afternoon brought us special appetizers while locals at the marina inquired genuinely about Canada (including how difficult it would be to immigrate here).

After putting over 20,000 steps on our Fitbits, we tried to eat at a recommended restaurant only to find they were closed for a private function. This got us on TripAdvisor looking for another recommended hot spot – Zarzuela. After another hike we found ourselves outside this small venue inquiring about wait times. This turned out to be one of the best decisions of the weekend.

Here we met a couple sitting at a sidewalk table drinking sangria. In yoga pants and shorts, this couple were locals who have dinner there almost every week. The man jumped up to give me his chair and encouraged us to wait out the dinner rush, claiming the food would be remarkable. When the couple were called for their table, they went inside and were back in moments asking us to join them – a graciousness that doesn’t happen all that often.

This might actually be the thing that helps prevent conflicts all over the world – generosity of spirit and genuine kindness.

Three hours of dining and laughter ended with an invitation to join them for a sail the next day out on the bay. San Francisco was enjoying a particularly sunny and warm weekend and they wanted us to take full advantage of it. So a Saturday sailing around Alcatraz Island and under the historic Golden Gate Bridge occurred because strangers were civil to each another. That night we had dinner with them in their high-rise condo, enjoying a few bottles of fabulous Napa Valley wine (which we contributed to the party).

When you think about what created meaning in your life at the end of your days, I believe it will be all about experiences like these. Chance encounters with wonderful people who extend a little kindness to strangers on a windy night in San Francisco.

Our world could do with a bit more of these moments. Thank you, Barbara Bush, for the reminder. And thanks to Nancy and Mitch (our new San Francisco friends) for graciously giving of yourself to two Canadian tourists. What a breath of fresh air!

Troy Media columnist Faith Wood is a novelist and professional speaker who focuses on helping groups and individuals navigate conflict, shift perceptions and improve communications.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

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