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"Ancient Friendship for Modern Men" Chapter 8 - Casual Connectivity

One of the joys of my life is breaking bread with people from all over the world, and often in their local communities. Breaking Ramadan fast with a family in a Pakistani home, enjoying chicken from the backyard with a Honduran family in San Pedro Sula, raclette in the French countryside with friends, fresh fruit and bread in a small town outside Nuremburg with a close friend and local B & B owners, and enjoying stovies with friends and a guide at a local bar after a climb of Ben Nevis in Scotland. What a privilege to meet people and to get a glimpse into their daily lives.

When guests visit Fort Worth, I enjoy taking them to a restaurant called Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House. For a long time, there were only two, one in Dallas and one in Fort Worth. They later expanded across the country, but if you wanted a steak like the one you make for yourself, their location in Fort Worth was the place to go. I had an associate visiting town and decided to give him the full Fort Worth Stock Yards and steak experience. When we arrived, I was greeted by familiar faces as I often brought clients to the restaurant. When I sat down a Diet Coke and a Salty Dog were waiting for me and the sommelier was already visiting the table and informing me about a particular wine he had from Ribera Del Duero, a favorite region of mine in Spain. As the restaurant staff made their greetings and suggestions they also were engaging with my guest, who was indifferent to all of them. He demanded items, never said thank you, never shook hands with the staff, never looked up at them, and by the end of the evening had managed to send his steak back, complain about the food and never once thanked an individual for their time or efforts. I was embarrassed and astonished. I even called the two gentlemen I interacted with at the restaurant to apologize for my guest’s behavior and assured them I would never bring him back.

Let’s say hypothetically the food was bad this night, or the service was off. This individual was old enough and experienced enough to identify my relationship with the people at the restaurant, and this alone would have warranted a kinder, gentler response in respect of my relationships, but instead the entire evening was full of disdain, expectancy, and complaint.

For me this is a rare experience, but for wait staff around the globe this is a daily experience. Every day endless numbers of jackasses, bitter – angry people, narcissist, you name it, walk into places of business with no regard for the individual serving them. And on some occasions, vice-versa.

We could all write a book on how casual interactions have saved, or cost someone on the edge their lives. Our brief encounters with others are where souls, friendships, and wars are won and lost.

If our aim is true friendship, it begins in the casual conversations and interactions we have with strangers or those we see only ever so often. This would seem a simple concept which everyone would grasp, but somehow, we manage to fail on occasion to be kind.

A friendship has a start, and they all look very different, but we must have a moment of introduction. A virtuous person will ensure all first encounter are made with a desire to elevate the other individual. The waiter is not your servant, the door man is not a door mat, the lady managing the fast-food window is not to be yelled at, and the person cleaning your building is not your personal maid. If we look at people as below us, or we are unkind because of position, or God forbid race, creed, sex, or dress, we have made ourselves sons of hell.

A person’s career choice or position in life may have nothing to do with their virtuosity. There are incredibly financially successful people who are unvirtuous and virtuous individuals who are beginning a career, changing careers or content in roles you may deem inferior.

We will never be close friends with most of the people we meet, but we can behave as if it were possible. Every meeting could grow into friendship.

So, what actions do we take beyond simply being kind? We engage.

With all our interactions we are keeping the eyes of our heart wide open. We greet and smile when we encounter others, we pay attention to their body language and verbal queues and respond kindly, we remain open to conversations beyond niceties, we ask questions when appropriate, and we seek to make negative situations into positive solutions.

Not only are the eyes of our heart wide open with each interaction, but we place others in a position of respect. We show honor to other people, especially those who serve us. We never behave in a way that is haughty or demining. We should never demand but ask. And most importantly, we continuously and endlessly speak and show gratitude.

When I was 33 years old, I had reached 215 lbs. which for a 5 ft 6-inch individual is way overweight. A friend at work and I decided to get serious about our diet and exercise. Almost every day for months we went to Applebee’s by our office and had salads and hamburgers without a bun.

There was a guy working the lunch hour every day and he became our regular waiter. When we arrived, he knew exactly what we would be having and of course seeing each other almost daily we began to learn more and more about, Myk.

Myk was kind and attentive to us when we were in the restaurant. Over a couple of years, we would see him get married and have a couple of kids. Each interaction led to more and more conversation and life updates. We invited Myk to join us on The May Club and he would attend years after we met and continue to attend over the years.

If we were closed to connecting on a casual level and closed to expanding casual interactions, we would have missed out on a friendship.

It’s easy to be dismissive of causal interactions. If you are headed to a business meeting, you may walk into the front lobby and greet the receptionist and advise them of a meeting you have with someone. You sit and wait quietly for your meeting without engaging with the person at the front desk. However, you are failing to interact with someone who may hold the keys to the company. A person who knows the habits of a client, the likes and dislikes, the way a system works and could give you vital information. You should never be dismissive of a gatekeeper.

Many a receptionist was the key to a successful relationship with various business partners, and many a receptionist became a trusted acquaintance. I’ve worked for Al Boenker for over 24 years. He owns an insurance group in Texas. Al taught me early in my career to, “do for those no one else does anything for.” He encouraged me to identify people in organizations who carried much of the responsibility and influence, but who may not be recognized for their effort. He told me to do this for the business reasons of gaining influence, but more importantly he said it was because these unnoticed individuals deserved to be recognized. Every individual deserves to be seen, thanked, and awarded.

We may discover the most virtuous and interesting individuals if we are never dismissive of others based on where and how we encounter them.