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The Everyday Diplomat

by Deborah Rinner, Vice President, Tero International

"True originality consists not in a new manner, but in a new vision." - Edith Wharton

The hotel airport shuttle arrived at 3:45 a.m. Nine of us gathered to board, groggy and bleary eyed in the damp entryway of the hotel. We were a group formed with only one thing in common. We had all missed connecting flights out of Denver the day before, and due to weather and scarcity of aircrafts going to our particular destinations, we were delayed overnight. We now had one common goal. Get to our respective destinations on early morning flights.

The shuttle driver was loading the luggage as we boarded the van. The van had three steps up, which at such an early hour seemed difficult to climb, and a very close row of seats with a bench seat in back. A family of four climbed behind my seat to sit together in that one, although they looked as if they wished they could sit separately. The dad, mom and two teenage boys seemed resigned rather than excited. Travel delays can do that. It looked like what might have been a fun family experience turned into a test of endurance when stuck overnight, off the vacation schedule, and most likely housed last night in one cramped hotel room. Several of us appeared to be business travelers, for although it was Saturday morning, the dim interior light of the van illuminated our rather wrinkled and tired looking business suits and faces. A young couple took the seat ahead of me. It looked as if they had been backpacking. Vacation maybe. I watched as the young man handed his wife a glass jar to hold as they sat down. In the jar was the fragile cut of a plant. I noted how carefully he handed it to her. I couldn't believe it. I wondered why he was going to such measures to bring home the plant start. Maybe it was a memento.

We were belted in and waiting and the damp morning air made the wait cold and uncomfortable. A few people spoke in hushed, tired tones. The energy on the bus was one of mild impatience. I imagined that if you could hear everyone's internal thoughts, they would have been complaints. It's so early, I'm cold, I'm tired. Why aren't we going? These thoughts described the general mood in the van. Five minutes passed. Now people were looking at their watches. No one wanted to dare miss their earliest opportunity to get home. Why weren't we moving?

The shuttle driver was still behind the van. The person in the seat across from me wiped the condensation off the window to see what the delay was. The driver was talking to a woman, who was trying to get organized to board the bus. She had a lot of bags and it appeared she had difficulty walking. Her ankles protruding over her shoes gave her a faulty gate. Her size prevented her from carrying her bags surely and one had dropped causing a bit of commotion. The noise and the delay triggered a definite feeling of exasperation in the van. Yet we all just sat there. Wrapped in our individual discontent, we seemed unable to move. It was as if we had all silently agreed to just endure the situation, and layer the ill will this woman's circumstance and the delay brought right on top of our feelings of fatigue, cold and discontent at not being home. The bad feeling in the van was as tangible as the uncomfortable seats. It was like a spell had set over all of us.

Right at this moment, I noticed again the couple in the seat ahead of mine. Quietly the young man asked his wife, "Do you mind if I help?"

She whispered back, "No, please."

It was then he got up and broke the spell. He got up from the seats we all seemed chained by our discontent to and quickly descended the van steps. "Good Morning, can I help you?" he cheerily addressed the woman who was the cause of the delay. You could hear them talking and then up the steps he came, securing her carry on bag under the seat quickly descending again to take her arm and carefully help her up. He made sure she got sat comfortably, made eye contact and smiled at her asking quietly if there was anything else he could do. The dim light of the van seemed to brighten as he smiled at her. The young man sat down. The driver, who due to this man's help had time to finish loading the bags, boarded and started the van. The person seated directly behind the woman spoke up, as if continuing the help he had observed, engaging her in a conversation about where her destination was. The dark mood had lifted. The spell was broken. Off to the Denver airport we went.

As we rode along, I looked ahead admiringly at the young man and his wife. He had broken a spell by giving consideration to what to others was a cause of discontent. Instead of joining in on our prevailing mood, allowing her to climb into the bus feeling awkward and late at our expense, he diplomatically, tactfully took care of her and all of us.

I thought of all the times and occasions in life that we fail to exercise diplomacy due to our surroundings. Maybe it's not what the people around us do, maybe it's not how people act in the culture of the place we work. Maybe it's too much effort. Yet in the everyday to observe an individual choosing to act in a way that tactfully and surely makes it better for everybody is an amazing thing. Not unlike observing someone taking the time and care to bring a plant cutting home to remember things by. Diplomacy, it may be at its best found in the everyday.

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