Actionable empathy – food & fire!


A recent incident at an MIT Venture Mentoring Service session taught me that there’s a name for actionable empathy: generosity and its cohort, kindness. These two terms are often found together, as in the dictionary definition of generous:

generous |ˈjen(ə)rəs|

generous |ˈjen(ə)rəs| adjective(of a person) showing a readiness to give more of something, as money or time, than is strictly necessary or expected: she was generous with her money.showing kindness toward others: it was generous of them to ask her along.

I’m a creature of habit, especially when it comes to eating. I get up about 6 a.m. and I’m having breakfast by 7:30. By noon I’m hungry, so I aim to eat between 12 pm and 1 pm. However, one of the VMS standing meeting times is from noon to 1:30 p.m. I generally try to avoid that time slot, as I don’t want to mix mentoring and eating. But if I get stuck with a lunch time meeting I get a snack on my way to MIT. Flour Bakery on Mass Ave is great and I highly recommend them for breakfast or lunch.

So what happened at this lunch time meeting? Well as usual I got there early, a habit of mine I highly recommend.  When I checked in at the front desk I was told the founder was already there. I walked the short distance to the conference room and there my founder sat, with his notebook computer and a few paper bags as well.

Due to MIT’s very strict confidentially rules I can’t name the founder, but he had realized that the meeting spanned the lunch hour so had gone well beyond being considerate to being kind and generous: those paper bags held sandwiches from, guess where, Flour! We managed to both eat lunch and have an excellent mentoring sessions, thanks to VMS’s team  mentoring approach. One of us could eat while the other mentor or the founder spoke.

When I told this story to our wonderful front office staff they had a story of their own. The founder had worked with VMS many years agoand he decided to come into the office before his meeting to get reacquainted. And brought with him fresh-baked cookies for the staff – baked by him!

While good manners may help you influence people, kindness and generosity through your actions will have an even great impact and they go together hand in glove. As I’ve written before, one of the great benefits of being a mentor is learning from the founders we work with.

Which reminds me of a story from over 50 years ago. I took what is now known as a gap year between graduating high school and going to college, to hitchhike around Europe and the Middle East. I met many other travelers, largely from Australia, Canada, and Great Britain – probably because we all spoke English. One tip I received was to carry something to give to driver who picked me up hitchhiking. These were the days when everyone, including me smoked cigarettes and the smoking rate in Europe and the Middle East exceeded the US. I got this tip while I was in Rome. When I went into a smoke shop in search of cigarettes I found some absolutely beautiful small boxes of matches for sale. These were the perfect gift for drivers, who all smoked or if they didn’t, certainly had friends and family who did. So I exceeded my $3/day budget and bought a whole bunch of match boxes and it was very rewarding seeing the smiles on the faces of the drivers who had done me such a favor by picking me up and appreciated this small token of appreciation.


Author: Mentorphile

Mentor, coach, and advisor to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. General manager with significant experience in both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Focus on media and information. On founding team of four venture-backed companies. Currently Chairman of Popsleuth, Inc., maker of the Endorfyn app for keeping fans updated on new stuff from their favorite artists.

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