It was a warm summer morning.  I was seventeen years old and I was working through the list of chores my mom had left for me in the daily note she wrote each morning before she left for work.  Then the phone rang.  It was from the dispatcher of Fame Fire Company.  They had a call to transport a patient from the local hospital to a nursing home – a taxi call as we used to call them.  Not an emergency but the hospital needed the bed and wanted us to pick up the patient as soon as possible.  They had an ambulance driver standing by but needed an EMT to go on the call.  Since I lived just a half a block from the station, I told them I would be there in a minute.  I washed my hands and headed out the door.

The driver already had the ambulance door open and was sitting behind the wheel of the ambulance adjusting the seat and mirrors.  I grabbed a clean white coat that was our customary summer dress for ambulance calls and jumped in the passenger seat.  The driver handed me the dispatcher’s sheet and I began filling out the paperwork as he pulled out of the building.  Once we arrived at the hospital, he parked in the non-emergency space reserved for these types of calls and we made our way to the room.

That’s when I met George.  George had fallen and broken his hip.  In those days, this was a devastating injury because there was no way to repair this kind of break.  A person would be forced to live the remainder of their lives in a nursing home resting in bed – and since the bone could not be reset or replaced as we do today, the patient was usually in quite a bit of pain for the rest of their lives.

So, with the help of the nursing staff, we did our best to gently move George from the hospital bed to our gurney.  But it became obvious that George did not feel like we were being gentle enough.  He glared at me and used every curse word you can imagine describing the incompetence with which I was moving him.  His tirade grew worse as we rolled him on his side to remove the hospital sheet from underneath him.  Since it was summer, I used the blanket to create cushioning next to the broken hip but that only seemed to upset him more.  Finally, we covered him with the sheet, strapped him in, and began heading toward the elevator.  During the entire time, we were trying to get him to the ambulance, he kept swearing at me – as if I was the only one hurting him.  I was not looking forward to the long ride to the nursing home where I would have to sit in the back of the ambulance alone with George.  I knew every bump in the road was going to be a reason for him to berate me even more.

Once we got to the nursing home, we rolled George into the back entrance reserved for ambulatory patients.  The nurse’s station was right inside the door and I had to speak with greater volume to give them George’s full name since he was still cursing at me as loudly as possible.  Fortunately, his new home would be the very first room past the nurse’s station so I knew the verbal abuse would soon come to an end.  We got George settled in his bed to a chorus of cussing and we were finally ready to leave.  As we rolled the gurney to the door, I stopped and turned around to look at George.  With a big smile on my face, I said, “That’s okay, George, I know you like me.”  I hail of curse words hit my back as we walked out.

Sometimes in life, we will meet the most disagreeable people.  And as hard as we may try, we may never be able to get them to change their reaction to anything we do to try and make life easier for them.

Sometimes in life, we will meet the most disagreeable people.  And as hard as we may try, we may never be able to get them to change their reaction to anything we do to try and make life easier for them.  But, remember, you may not know it, but you could be making a difference in their lives.  So…

  • If they yell at you for no particular reason, ignore it and be kind.
  • If they try to belittle you for any attempt to comfort them, ignore it and be kind.
  • If they blame you for their troubles and woes when you know that you are truly innocent, ignore it and be kind.
  • If they are hateful and hurtful for no apparent reason, ignore it and be kind.
  • If you want to make a difference in their lives and be the kind of leader that never gives up on a person, be kind. Here’s the reason why.

After my experience with George, I made it a point to stop by his room every time I had a taxi call to the same nursing home.  I would stick my head in the door and say loudly, “Hey, George, how are you doing today?”  The response was always the same – “Get out of here you… and the cursing would begin.  I would smile and say, “Nice to know you still like me, George,” and off I would go.

One day, I was on an emergency call to the nursing home.  We were in and out with the patient very quickly and off to the hospital.  Since it was a life and death situation, I was focused on one thing – caring for my patient until I turned her over to the hospital emergency room staff.

On my next visit to the nursing home for a taxi call, one of the nurses pulled me aside.  “You need to go see George.  He has completely given up any hope – he won’t eat, barely drinks any water, he just lays there wanting to die.  See, he has no visitors – no family has ever come to visit him.  You were the only person that seemed to care enough to say hello.  The night you were in and out for the emergency, George saw you and since you did not stop, he figured you were done with him too.  Please, go talk to him.”

So, I went to the door and announced loudly, “So, George, you missed me!  I am so touched.”  As you can guess, he replied with a barrage of cursing and yelling.  I smiled, walked to the door, and stopped and turned around.  “See, I knew you like me.”  The curses followed me on down the hallway.

After that, I never left that nursing home without speaking to George – even if it was to yell, “Hey, George,” as we ran to an emergency.  Just before I left for Marine Corps boot camp, I drove out to the nursing home.  I walked to George’s bed and explained to him that I would be leaving for a while but that I would stop by after I graduated from boot camp.  He responded that he didn’t care and why was I bothering him.  The fact that he did not curse at me told me everything I needed to know.  I reached down and patted his hand, “Because, George, despite everything you have said to me, I know you still like me.”  I turned quickly and left because I knew we were both trying to hide our tears.

Don’t ever give up on people.  Let kindness guide you and you will surely become an exceptional leader.



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Len Bernat
LEN is a leader groomed by 20 years of molding and shaping by some of the finest leaders in the United States Marine Corps. Their guidance helped Len realize his full potential as he moved from an enlisted Marine to becoming an Officer of Marines. Len became known for being the leader who could turn any lackluster organization into a strong, functional unit. Upon his retirement, Len worked in several positions before finally starting a second career in governmental procurement. His experience and leadership skills enabled him to be recognized as the 2011 Governmental Procurement Officer of the Year for the Governmental Procurement Association of Georgia and opened doors for him to teach at many of the association’s conferences. Len was also called to the ministry and was ordained at Ashford Memorial Methodist Church in November of 1999. Today, Len is the Pastor of Maxeys Christian Church in Maxeys, Georgia. Len has been married to his wife, Hazel, for 36 years and they have three daughters, three grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. Grab your copy of Len's new Book – Leadership Matters | Advice From A Career USMC Officer. Using his life experiences as examples, Len takes the eleven principles of leadership and the fourteen traits every leader should possess—which he learned during twenty years in the Marine Corps—and teaches the reader how he was molded and shaped by some of the best leaders the Corps had to offer.
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Joel Elveson

Len, This is such a heartwarming story! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. This article evidences the fact that you always had outstanding character traits. Earlier today I e-mailed Dennis to see if he had heard from you since it had been a while since I saw any new articles from you. I was concerned that something might be wrong. While the 4th of July celebrates the birth of this great country it is because of people like you who fought and died or just fought that our country enjoys the liberties we do. In lieu of the above, I want to say thank you to you!

Christine Andola

What a wonderful story, Len. Aside from the obvious lesson to be kind to others, this story demonstrates that you never know when someone will come into your life and make a difference. It is important to always be open to these possibilities. (I have always had a soft spot in my heart for curmudgeons.)

Bharat Mathur

Thanks a Million, Len Sir, for sharing such a powerfully touching story! Besides being a ‘Hero,’ you are also the epitome of True Leadership as the life-lessons you share with us in these groups come from the deepest cores of a genrous soul that feels the pain of others just as much as its own.

Last, but not the least, your contribution as part of the elite Marines goes a long way in ensuring freedom for mankind as a whole. You rightfully deserve my humble salute as do all other servicemen and women that are ready to give the supreme sacrifice as the need arises.

On this 4th of July, I bow my head in honor of those that laid down their lives in pursuit of justice, freedom and equality.

A Huge Note of Thanks and A Very Happy Fourth of July!

Larry Tyler

This reminds me of Kairos when everything lines up and things works sometimes because of what you do, other times just because it is the way things work out. What a great story my friend. I truly enjoyed it.

Lynn Forrester-Pitocco

LEN, SO OFTEN OUR IMMEDIATE RESPONSE IS TO THROW IN THE TOWEL AND SAY FORGET IT. KINDNESS IS EVERYTHING, BUT PATIENCE IS MORE AND YOU WERE GIVEN THE GRACE TO HAVE BOTH. GEORGE WILL NEVER FORGET YOU. BLESSINGS