The Story Behind the People, the Concept and the Formation of the Worklife Book Club
A New Year is almost here
A new life chapter about to begin
A time to raise a glass and cheer
Shared stories that warm our hearts within
Stories of simple acts of kindness
That showed people really cared
Acts that took away the loneliness
At a time when people were feeling scared
New Year’s Eve Tales: Stories of Acts of Kindness That Led to Building a Community of Caring and Connectivity & The Book Wisdom Book Club: A Case Study
It was the lull before the New Year’s Eve celebrations would begin. Together with the rest of the team, Aisling had spent the afternoon preparing the warehouse for a night of partying and fireworks. As they sat around the table, they each raised a glass in celebration of the friendships that had come about in response to coming together to help rebuild their community, following the impact of the pandemic on people’s lives and the community businesses. They each started to share their story of how they had been connected through acts of kindness.
Aisling began by telling how an act of kindness by Lulu had connected them. Living alone in a studio flat, in a house that didn’t have a garden or outdoor space of any kind, throughout the lockdown Aisling made it a priority to visit a nearby garden at the end of each afternoon, and sit and read awhile. The garden was located in the grounds of a churchyard, and Aisling always navigated towards a bench that nestled in the shade of a grove of trees. Most days Lulu would arrive and sit on the other end of the same bench. They began to acknowledge each other, first with a nod and a smile, then a greeting, followed by a longer exchange, and onto a conversation. One day the conversation led to lockdown birthdays, when Aisling shared that she had a birthday coming up in a few days’ time. When Lulu asked what she would miss most in her lockdown birthday, Aisling shared how she had lost her closest friend, Norma, at the end of the previous year, and how she would miss seeing her arrive to spend time together, as they did on their respective birthdays. Norma would always call out to Aisling as she arrived, smiling and waving, arms full of flowers, because she knew how much Aisling loved having fresh flowers in her home.
Aisling thought no more about the conversation, until her birthday, when sitting on her favourite park bench she heard her name being called, and looking up she saw Lulu smiling and waving, her arms full of flowers. Aisling said she was blown away by both Lulu’s act of kindness, and the beauty of the flowers Lulu had arranged.
Lulu shared how she believed flowers had saved her life. She’d had lots of ups and downs in her life. Growing up with strict parents, she’d run away from home in her teens, she’d lived in a squat before becoming homeless and at times had slept rough. She’d neglected her health and as a result developed chronic fatigue. Her friend, Adam, offered her a room in his home to recover and convalesce. Adam worked as a cleaner at the local hospital, and everyday he’d arrive home with flowers — flowers that patients had left behind when they’d left the hospital, flowers that had a few more days of life in them.
With the little energy she had, Lulu began to arrange the flowers in her room. She did so in an amazingly beautiful way, and it soon became apparent that she had a wonderful flair with flowers. In a matter of days her room had become a sanctuary, and this is where Lulu believed flowers had saved her life. She felt that the few days of life remaining in each new daily bunch of flowers that Adam brought had, gave her more strength and as a result restored her life. She felt flowers had deep inner-healing properties. Gradually Lulu regained more strength, but her chronic fatigue never fully left her, and she had to be mindful in taking care of herself, particularly around keeping hydrated, because dehydration would bring about dizziness and cause her to feel faint.
As she went about her daily WorkLife, she would always make time for people she knew to be homeless. She had been there herself, and without knowing people’s individual stories, Lulu could relate to their circumstances. She got to know Charlie who sold the Big Issue outside her local underground station, she bought a copy from him every week. In between times, she always had a kind word for him, would buy him a sandwich or a drink, or whatever she could do to help.
Then one day as Lulu was walking past Charlie, she collapsed. Because of Covid-19, she’d been avoiding public transport, and was walking everywhere instead. It was a sweltering hot day, and she’d become dehydrated because she hadn’t drunk enough water, causing her to feel dizzy, and then to faint. Charlie came running towards her, and before she lost consciousness she remembered him grabbing her bag, then running away. Lulu’s bag had been robbed before, and she remembered thinking, oh no, Charlie, please not my bag, it’s got my life in it. But she didn’t have the energy to talk or react. The next thing she remembered on gaining consciousness, was seeing Charlie together with a police officer and a couple of medical people who were standing over her. Charlie held out a big bottle of water to her, and then handed her back her bag. He had run to the supermarket and bought her a bottle of water. Along the way he had stopped to tell a police officer what had happened, and he had asked him to call an ambulance. He had taken her bag, because he knew she had her life in it, and was afraid someone would rob her when he left her alone. Lulu said Charlie’s quick thinking and act of kindness had helped save her, and had also restored her belief that there were really good people in the world.
Charlie shared how he had become homeless. An investment banker, he had lost his job a couple of years earlier. He had been living a life outside of his means and had incurred significant debt, partly due to his extravagant lifestyle and partly due to his addiction to gambling. He had hid all of this both at work and at home from his wife, but when his debtors caught up with him, his home, car and everything he owned was repossessed. Because he worked in banking, his employers were notified because of the credit checks they randomly carried out on all employees, and as a result he lost his job. His wife had wanted to stand by him, but he said the shame he felt had led him to a downward spiral of constant drinking, which in turn had caused him to push her away. Over time, with the help of Big Issue, Charlie was slowly beginning to rebuild his life.
Then when Covid-19 struck, Charlie was forced to leave his pitch. He was accommodated in a local hotel, which had opened its doors to both frontline workers and rough sleepers. He had access to health support, daily welfare and food deliveries. Gary, who was in charge of the food deliveries and managed all of the volunteers, asked Charlie if he could help out. Gary demonstrated to Charlie what he needed to do, which was to pack each of the lunch bags, ready for the volunteers delivering to pick up. He in effect gave Charlie responsibility and then trusted him to do it. Gary also asked Charlie to add anyone he knew who would benefit from a nutritious lunch to their list of deliveries. Charlie mentioned a few of the men who slept at the hotel, who he met every afternoon at the churchyard garden, and asked if he could bring them their lunch at the end of his shift. Gary said yes. Having been shown such kindness, and then been given the gift of trust, made Charlie feel like a human being again. It had been a long time since he felt that. It had been a long time since someone had shown trust in him.
Gary told the story of how he had become involved in the food deliveries and managing the volunteers. As owner of a local restaurant, they closed their doors at the beginning of the pandemic, but very quickly reopened them. At first the team began to prepare lunch packs for staff at the local hospital. Very quickly they came to realise that they could do a lot more. As a local business owner, Gary knew his fellow business owners, in particular the hotel owners and managers who were opening their doors to both key workers and homeless people. Gary suggested he and his team prepare and drop off lunch packs at the hotels each day, to be distributed among those staying, and that was how that got underway. He then became aware of people living in the community who were self-isolating, who would also benefit from a healthy lunch. There was more demand than he and his team could meet, so he approached fellow restaurant owners to join in and help out. They were more than happy to do so, and to meet the growing demand of deliveries, Gary began to recruit more volunteers to help pack and deliver.
One day as Gary was driving past the churchyard gardens, he dropped Charlie off with the lunch packs for his friends. On noticing there were tennis courts within the gardens, Gary parked up and got out to walk around and explore. Tennis was a passion Gary shared with his wife, Catherine, who had passed away five years earlier. Grief-stricken Gary had thrown himself into his restaurant, leaving no time for anything but work. As Gary approached the courts a familiar voice called out to him. It was Marco, the manager at one of the hotels Gary was working with on the lunch packs distribution. Tennis being one of the initial games people were allowed to play during lockdown, Marco suggested they meet to play. Gary declined, saying he was too busy. But Marco wasn’t one to give up, so he booked a court anyway, turned up at Gary’s restaurant the next day, with rackets in hand, and wouldn’t leave until Gary went upstairs to his apartment, put on his sportswear and came with him. Marco also didn’t stop at one game. He signed them both up as doubles partners to play in the summer tournament about to begin, turning up ahead of each game to pick him up, so Gary couldn’t cancel or back out. When he lost Catherine, he had cut everything and everybody out of his life, throwing himself into his restaurant and his work, and then when the pandemic hit, and he could no longer do that, he threw himself into the lunch initiative and helping others. He also needed help, but he would never have asked for it. He knew that Marco knew that, and while he wasn’t explicit in saying he was doing this to help Gary, that was exactly what he was doing. Gary shared that Marco’s insistence and persistence, and not giving up on him, was the act of kindness he needed.
Born in Milan, Marco had moved to London seven years earlier. Having studied hotel management in Italy, after five years of working at a leading hotel chain in London, two years earlier he had become manager at the boutique hotel he was currently with in Shoreditch. He enjoyed living and working in Shoreditch, and life was good.
Then at the beginning of the pandemic, he lost both of his grandparents. They were in their eighties, and were among the thousands of Italy’s relatively older population that succumbed to the virus before people realised what was happening. Marco loved his grandparents dearly. He was saddened and shocked, he hadn’t had time to say goodbye to them, and then the Italian government introduced lockdown, which meant Marco couldn’t travel home to attend their funerals. Actually, none of his family could, not even those living close by, because funerals were banned in Italy, robbing his family of the chance to say a final goodbye. His family felt that the pandemic had killed twice, first his grandparents were isolated from those they loved before they died, then it didn’t allow anyone to get closure.
Marco looked on with the rest of the world in shock as the number of deaths grew day on day in Italy. Nobody had thought this could happen in Europe, but of course a few weeks later, and the UK was seeing the same numbers. Feeling helpless, Marco had thrown himself into his work, then when the hotel faced closure because of the pandemic, he immediately opened it up to both frontline workers and rough sleepers. He had to keep busy, and helping other people was the only way he knew how. Throughout this time he ran every day. It was another thing that allowed him to cope, and then as soon as the government announced people could pay tennis, he went along to book a court. He wanted and needed something else, something that was interactive, that was away from work. Seeing Gary at the court, he immediately saw in him what he was experiencing himself: a loneliness, which is why he insisted and persisted and didn’t give up on him.
It was a few months later when Marco met Giulia. When he hadn’t a tennis game, he had taken to coming and sitting in the garden alone with his thoughts. Giulia, recognising he was Italian, on greeting, sat next to him to drink her coffee, and began to chat. In her seventies, she had been isolating and was just coming out of lockdown. She had felt quite lonely, having not been able to see her children and grandchildren, even though they lived close by. She was counting the days until they could meet again. Giulia asked Marco about his family, and he opened up to her about having lost his grandparents, and the pain he had felt. Being Italian, Giulia understood more deeply than perhaps even Marco’s closest friends did. All of his friends had been really supportive, but there was something about Italians, Italian families and Italian funerals that only Italian people really understood.
Giulia, sitting quietly just listening, gave Marco the space to talk, to really talk and to open up and to share everything he had been bottling up inside of him. And then he began to cry. He began to release the deep sadness he had been carrying around. And it felt good. As they left the garden together, Giulia asked if they could stay in touch, maybe have a coffee together some time. She said it would help with her from feeling so lonely. Marco knew this was true, and he also knew she was doing this not only for her own loneliness but for his loneliness too. Marco said Giulia’s act of kindness in giving him the space he needed to open up about his grandparents, and to release the deep sadness he had been holding inside of him, and then caring enough not to leave him alone with his loneliness was what he needed, even though he didn’t admit to needing it.
Giulia had found self-isolating hard, not being able to see her children and grandchildren was really hard. She found the days long and lonely. Although she walked every day, it was lonely, she was alone. London was a lonely place, and Shoreditch felt particularly lonely. Being in her seventies, she felt invisible. On her daily walks nobody ever acknowledged or engaged with her. She missed her family so much, she missed being around people who saw her, and who took time to talk to her. She would prolong her walks by stopping in the church garden, and sit and just people watch. Nobody ever engaged with her. Once again she felt invisible, she felt lonely, but at least it meant less time home alone. Even though people didn’t talk to her, she was among people.
Then one day as she was finishing her walk and heading towards the church garden, she came across a cafe that was selling takeout coffee. Joining the queue, the woman next to her turned and smiled and said hello. It was the first time in weeks Giulia had interacted with anyone. Giulia ordered her coffee and the woman said, “let me get that”, and she paid for it. She then introduced herself. Her name was Aisling. They chatted a little more and discovered they both lived in Shoreditch. As they walked together towards the church garden, Aisling mentioned she visited there most afternoons, but today she needed to get home to finish something she was working on. Giulia said she hoped they’d meet again for a coffee, and Aisling said she’d like that.
It was Aisling smiling and talking to Giulia that prompted Giulia to smile and talk to Marco. The simple but profound ripple effect of a smile. Giulia said Aisling’s act of kindness in first turning and smiling at her, then talking to her, and then buying her coffee, made her feel visible again; and discovering they both lived in Shoreditch made her feel a little less lonely. She said these simple acts had a really profound impact on her.
And those were their stories of how they had been connected through acts of kindness. This connectiveness developed into friendships as they came together to build a community of caring and connectivity in a place that wasn’t known for caring and connectivity.
The group had formed a book club. The reasons were two-fold:
- For social interaction and connectivity, coming together over a shared interest of reading;
- To apply learning from literature to everyday work and life
Each of them took turns to suggest a book. They still had a little time before people would arrive for the New Year’s Eve party, and so they took a few moments to discuss the:
They had taken from The Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallwey, which Gary had suggested reading.
Gary said he suggested the book because tennis had helped him rebuild his life, and that because the tennis courts were connected to the churchyard garden, which was the connection they all shared, that there seemed to him to be importance in that too. Because their connectivity had brought them together with a purpose of rebuilding the lives of people and businesses in their community
He went on to share what he believed were:
Words of Wisdom
On The Inner Game of Tennis: “It is much more than an approach to tennis: it is a whole philosophy of life.” Maurice Yaffe, Psychology Today.
Aisling said because of her work in helping people learn, develop and grow in their WorkLife, she had always been fascinated how people’s inner talk, their inner voices led to them sabotaging themselves. And that she thought Gallwey’s search for practical ways to overcome mental obstacles that prevent maximum performance was really interesting.
Charlie said he recognised the game he was playing in his own mind, against its own bad habits. He spoke about how Gary showing trust in him to get on with the work that was needed in getting the lunch packs ready had given him back confidence in himself, which he had lost. The book allowed him to recognise that his lack of confidence was an elusive opponent, and that he had other elusive opponents, such as low self-esteem. He said he was using this self-awareness together with asking himself questions from the book, for example: How good can I get? Then reflecting on that, and through self-feedback, which in effect are new voices in his head, to use this to guide him in knowing the answer. He said he was learning that he can get good at things, and for now that was good enough.
Lulu said the elusive opponents also resonated with her. She recognised hers to be nervousness, self-doubt and lapses of concentration. She knew the importance of maintaining good health and well-being, and in particular ensuring she was always hydrated, because that helped with her concentration. She spoke about how the work she’d been involved in with the community was helping her self-doubt. She had never felt she had anything to offer in her WorkLife. She didn’t consider herself to have any skills. But the demand for her flower arranging in the community workplaces and at events was disproving her self-doubt, and working with flowers was alleviating her nervousness. Her belief that flowers had deep inner healing properties was being reinforced.
Giulia said the book served to reinforce for her what she had learnt from her first interactions with Aisling and Marco, and that was she needed to let go of self-judgements. She had judged herself to be invisible because of her age, she had judged London and in particular Shoreditch to be a lonely place, but she recognised she had in fact contributed to that invisibility and loneliness because she herself hadn’t interacted with people. She said the ripple effect of a simple smile remains one of the most profound things she had taken from everything that had happened in the last year, and that the learning she had taken from the book had reinforced that.
Marco recognised that almost every human activity involves both the outer and inner games talked about in the book. He recognised there are always external obstacles between us and our external goals, whether we are seeking to spend time with those we love, but our work demands too much of our time to allow that, or we’re struck by a pandemic that we hadn’t seen coming. And the inner obstacles are always there too: regret for not visiting his grandparents more often was causing difficulties for him from within. He recognised he had to let go of judging himself, in the knowledge that he had his grandparents for a long time and they’d shared wonderful times together. With this same knowledge he knew he would never again allow work demands to stop him from spending time with those he loved.
Aisling shared what she believed was:
That there is a need to ask different questions to get to new places. Questions to help people see themselves in a new light, to tell their story, to help them pivot.
She suggested as a group that this is something they could take away from this book club meeting, and from the stories they had shared of how they had been connected through acts of kindness. Something they could each ponder on, and from the self-feedback that came from that, they could share their thoughts when they next met. She suggested they could do this by way of beginning to think about how they can use the discoveries they’re making about themselves, together with the wisdom they’re gaining from the books they’re reading and the stories they’re sharing, that will help them to help their community. That ripple effect that Giulia spoke about of connecting, whether that’s through a smile, a kind word, a conversation or the sharing of learning, experiences, knowledge and stories.
Today’s featured book is: The Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallwey
This story has been adapted from chapter 13: Draw Upon Turning Points to Create the Next Chapter of Your WorkLife Story, from my book: Your WorkLife Your Way.
WorkLife Book Wisdom Stories:
The intention of the stories I share is to inspire you through people’s stories of their WorkLife experiences. Through these stories, you will learn about people’s dreams and ambitions, along with the challenges, obstacles, failures and successes they encountered along the road of their WorkLife journey. And how they used the power of book wisdom to help them find the inspiration and guidance to navigate their path to live their WorkLife with passion, purpose and pride.
My hope is that these book wisdom stories will help you throughout the chapters of your WorkLife Story.
I believe stories are a powerful mechanism for teaching, a powerful medium to learn through, and a powerful way to communicate who you are and what you stand for.
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