39 – Add Value Just Because

“Not adding value is the same as taking it away.”  – Seth Godin

On Thursday, I flew to San Diego for the Christian Business Faculty Association (CBFA) conference. My former dean is the Chair of the CBFA board, and I was looking forward to seeing some former colleagues.
As I was boarding the plane, I looked at my seat number. I was bound for seat 33D at the very back of the plane. When I arrived at my seat, I found an African man in his mid-thirties sitting in my seat. I showed him my ticket and he said that he knew that he was in my seat. He explained that the next seat over was his seat and that he was hoping that I would be willing to switch seats with his wife. Her seat was 19C.
I agreed and I walked back to the middle of the plane. I found his wife and announced that I was here to switch seats so that she could go and sit with her husband. She thanked me profusely. There was no need. It was a win-win. I moved from the very back of the plane to the middle and they got to sit together.
So I sat down next to an elderly Hungarian man. I said hello and he asked me if I would mind switching seats with his wife. She was in the seat directly behind mine. Again I agreed.
All of this movement caught the attention of a dozen nearby passengers. Some said “aw.” Others smiled. A few even clapped. I asked if anyone else wanted me to switch so they could sit with their loved ones. But my job was done. I sat down and began to buckle in, and I thought about what just happened.
Creating Value
I had been creating value. I created value for the first couple by moving halfway across the plane, and I was rewarded with a better seat. I created value for the second couple too. Even though I did not benefit from the second switch, they gained a good deal of value and I was no worse off. Seat 20C was no worse than 19C and they were kind of cute together.
In the process, I inadvertently created value for the dozen or so people who were touched by two heart-warming acts of kindness. And, I created value one last time by sharing this story.
It cost me almost nothing to create this value, but a number of people benefitted from my actions.
Stealing Value
Most of us think of sin as overt acts perpetrated against others such as lying, stealing, or murdering.  But James wrote, “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them” (James 4:17). I am not a theologian and I am not prepared to say that not switching seats would have been sinful. After all, I had a legal right to keep my seat. But practically, would have happened if I had decided that these strangers were not worth my trouble? Both couples would have had far less pleasant cross-country flights, the people sitting close by would not have had a chance to witness a random act of kindness, and you would not get to read this now. None of the good would have transpired. As Seth Godin wrote, “Not adding value is the same as taking it away.[1]
What did I get out of it? Nothing really, but I don’t have to directly benefit. Perhaps one day, something will return to me through such actions, but I didn’t give to get.
Additionally, it cost me almost nothing to add value to others. The cost/benefit ratio was so heavily tilted on the side of benefit that it would have been irrational not to switch seats.
This made me think. Sometimes we fail to see the value we can add to others because we think it must be costly or because we think only in terms of our benefit. But a massive reservoir of surplus value could be created if only we empathized with others and made little changes.
What About You?
I can add a great deal of value to others with little effort. There are people all around me whose lives whose lives I could improve if I was only aware and willing to help.
Are you creating value for others even when you are not likely to gain anything in return? If not, why not? This week, pay attention to the needs of others and you will find ample opportunity to do good.
If you do, take a moment and share it with me: dgerdes@csuniv.edu.
[1] Godin, S. (2013, Jan 12). The cost of neutral. Seth’s Blog. Retrieved from http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2013/01/the-cost-of-neutral.html