Several Sunday nights ago ABC's Desperate Housewives departed from their steady diet of illicit affairs, criminal activities and neighborly intrigues to focus the episode on how Wisteria Lane's ruggedly handsome handyman, Eli Scruggs (played by actor Beau Bridges), has helped out the hapless housewives over the years.
The episode begins as Eli announces his retirement, but -- in a twist of irony that is so that street --he instead has a heart attack while fixing Susan Mayer's roof. The story line ends with his funeral. In between, we take a trip down memory lane as Susan, Edie, Bree, Gaby, Lynette, and the rarely-seen-on-screen Mary Alice reminisce about when they first met Eli and the difference he has made -- not by what he fixed in their houses, but by what he repaired in their lives.
As sappy as this episode may seem, I'd be a snooty liar to deny that I had a tear in my eye once or twice during the show. Watching, I was reminded of all the people I've only known peripherally, but who have touched my life deeply, with simple acts of good-old-fashioned, everyday service.
The nurse who held my hand during a scary procedure; the contractor who showed up in the middle of the night to board up a huge picture window in hurricane winds; the neighbor who brought the paper to the front door, so strangers wouldn't know we were away on a trip. All of these people, and many more, embodied the spirit of service.
I've actually spent a good portion of the past 20 years deciphering just what service is. As a management consultant, I've trained tens of thousands of employees on how to be customer focused; I've developed big-scale strategic plans for service improvement within Fortune 500 companies, and I've even written a few books on the topic.
But lately, in light of President Obama's call for us -- the citizens of the United States of America -- to pick up the mantel of volunteerism and community contribution, I've been thinking about service in a new light. Yes we can - gift our time and money to worthy causes, involve ourselves in important matters of public policy, and join our neighbors in helping to make our society a better place. All of these are worthwhile, important and inspiring pledges of national support. But it seems to me that we can also be of service in small ways every day.
Here are a few that work as well in the lunchroom as they do on the soccer field.
Create A Climate Of Appreciation: There is nothing so motivating for friends, family, co-workers and the people who provide service as receiving the gift of a good compliment. An appreciation that goes beyond the generic "good job" -- and lets the other person know exactly what they did right and the quality they contributed -- is an aspect of everyday service worth mastering. Ask yourself: What opportunity do I have today to recognize someone specifically for something they did well?
Take The Extra Step: Initiative is defined as "the ability or attitude required to begin or initiate something without being prompted." It's going the extra mile and taking the extra step for a co-worker, a neighbor, a spouse or a stranger. Ask yourself: What opportunity do I have today to go beyond for someone and make his or her life a little bit better?
Redefine Service: So many people see service in a one-dimensional way -- simply provide what the organization or person asks for. But true service goes beyond this definition and encompasses the needs that can be seen (kindness, compassion, flexibility, tolerance, fairness), but are often unspoken. Ask yourself: What opportunity do I have today to see what someone needs and provide it to the best of my ability?
I don't know if the producers of Desperate Housewives wrote that episode because some of their major players were out on vacation, and they needed to do a limited storyline, or if it was their nod to President Obama. But I do know that practicing simple acts of service every day, with our neighbors, friends, families, communities and those around us, will unquestionably contribute to the type of America we can all be proud to be a part of.
Karen Leland is author of the recently released books Time Management In An Instant. She is the co-founder of Sterling Consulting Group. For questions, comments or to book Karen to speak at your next event, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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