Strangers As Mentors

Everyone has the potential to be a mentor, even strangers who are present for only a few moments that make a difference and are never seen or heard from again. Here are three examples of people who taught me simple, but important acts of kindness:

Some years ago, I was stuck with a dead car battery in a sketchy Manhattan neighborhood, and I wasn’t sure how to solve the problem without getting mugged financially or even physically. As I pondered my dilemma a man drove up in a Volkswagen Microbus and asked if I needed a jump. I sure did, and a few minutes later I was safely on my way.

Another time I had the opportunity for a job interview with a senior vice president at the New York Federal Reserve Bank. I was young and awestruck as I walked into his huge office and shook hands across a desk so large our hands could barely touch. When I told him how grateful I was that he would see me, he just said, “Everyone’s got 15 minutes for another human being.”

On my first trip to Germany I was to meet a friend in Heidelberg. When I arrived, he was at work, so I got a city map to locate his place. When two elderly ladies spotted me pondering the map they stopped to help. We broke the language barrier with much pointing at the map, gesturing at different landmarks in view, and pointing at which direction to walk.

As you might imagine today I carry jumper cables in my car and am generous with my time if someone needs help or advice that I might be able to give. And whenever I see a person looking lost I try to help them find what they are looking for – an especially fun pastime when I lived in New York and was able to help lost tourists looking for interesting places.

These people were complete strangers to me but they and others like them were mentors just as much as any teacher, manager, or colleague who helped me advance my life. They showed simple acts of courtesy that could help other people get through their day, and possibly change their life forever, as they have changed mine.