100 Ways to Succeed #163:

“Being There” for Others

Dale Carnegie (How to Win Friends and Influence People) once famously said, perhaps all you need to know to get ahead, in 29 words: “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

Mr Carnegie’s observation-commandment came to mind when a good friend asked me to contribute to a compilation of “best advice I ever got” stories he was putting together. I thought for a long time about his “simple” request. And here’s where I ended up:

Could attending a funeral count as “best piece of advice” I ever got? For me, yes.

My Grandfather Owen Snow (my Mom’s side) ran a little country store in Wicomico Church, Virginia, in a part of the state called the “Northern Neck.” As you might expect, we grandkids loved hanging out in the store—there were still barrels of this and that back in the late ’40s and even the ’50s. Sometimes Grampa Owen would let us measure something out—and he would turn tyrant if we ever shorted someone by even a fraction of an ounce. He’d always pile a little something extra into a can of 10-penny nails, or whatever. One also noticed, to the extent that a kid could, that he always took his time with people, listened to their stories, and treated them with the utmost respect.

I was in the Navy in Port Hueneme, California, when Grampa Owen passed away. We were days from a deployment to Danang, Vietnam, but my commanding officer didn’t hesitate for a second in giving me four days’ leave, even though I was the so-called Embarkation Officer—there’s a lesson for another day in that, too. Anyway, I made it to Wicomico Church in plenty of time for the service. Did I tell you it was a truly pipsqueak town, with, I’d guess, a population of 400 or 500, though my memory is cloudy? The roads were still pretty primitive, and it’d been dry for a while. Around 8 a.m., the service was at 10, the dust started to stir. In short order, it was a veritable dust storm. The upshot of all this is that over 1,000 people showed up. I talked to several of them, whom I didn’t know. It seemed as if Grampa Owen had lent each and every one a helping hand at one time or another—good advice, a call to someone somewhere who might help them out, an extended period of credit, a few bucks out of his pocket, whatever, and whatever.

The “lesson” that funeral taught me was the power of decency and thoughtfulness. It wasn’t that my Mom and Dad hadn’t done a lot of that, but this was the Ultimate Technicolor Illustration. In the most unassuming way, Grandpa Owen had “been there” for an entire community and beyond—and a great dust storm of people, some, who’d moved, from 100 miles away, had come to say one last thanks. If there isn’t a crystal-clear message, and, de facto, advice in that, I don’t know where you’d find it.

To make the obvious more obvious, if necessary: How do you (me!) stack up on The Great “Being There” Exam? It’s a “life question”—and a “business-career success question” with few, if any, peers.