3 Unexpected Ways Acts of Kindness and Playing Jenga with Refugees can Make Life Better


On Thanksgiving Day I got to experience something pretty wonderful. My wife Mary Carole and I got to spend time with our kids serving food, decorating a birthday cake, and playing Jenga with Syrian refugees at a dinner hosted by Utah's Catholic Community Services. A friend who spoke Arabic helped interpret the stories of the tragedies recently suffered by the refugees we met that day. We heard optimism and hope as they talked about what it meant to feel safe. Wearing the traditional dress of their homeland, they expressed delight in being part of this very American holiday. 

It reminded me that what makes life better for everybody is finding ways to serve. It's not just a platitude. That day gave our family a deeper appreciation for the security we enjoy in our daily lives.  Even more importantly, it gave us the gift of shared stories and revealed how they connect us to a broader humanity.

I've recently heard stories about other Intermountain caregivers and the unexpected ways they've made a difference. Just a couple of weeks ago, for example, Dr. Mark Briesacher, a Senior Vice President on the Management Committee, was spotted in a crowded food court steadying one toddler who was teetering on a table, while simultaneously preventing a younger sibling from launching himself out of the stroller. Mark was lending a hand (both of them, actually) to the kids' mom, who remained unaware of his help as she struggled with babe in arms to pay the cashier and gather up lunches. (As a fellow pediatrician Mark's intervention doesn't surprise me — I'm sure he's learned to spot an impending concussion 30 feet away.)

Bill Barnes, our Director of Government Relations, along with his wife Allie, have been known to pull aggressive weeds from the flower garden of a busy neighbor when they're out walking their dogs. And when Phillip Brough, MD, one of our Medical Group primary care physicians was dropping his son off at kindergarten he noticed that the latch on the playground fence wasn't working properly — so he went to his trunk, got out his crescent wrench, and fixed it on the spot.

I know many Intermountain colleagues make service in their communities a routine part of their lives. And I also love the spontaneity in these stories, illustrating so well the unexpected ways giving service can make life better. For me, they show that:

  1. When someone trusts you to hear their hardest stories it not only unburdens them a little, it deepens your own resolve to do what you can to make the world a better place. Tom Peters said: "We live and reason by stories." I believe we connect through them too, and feeling part of something bigger than ourselves is one of the secrets to a great life.
  2. Pulling someone else's weeds (or any random act of kindness) always seems to give the person who does it more energy than it takes. Isn't it neighborliness that builds better communities and better communities that make a stronger world?
  3. Letting the buck stop with you, rather than pointing fingers, doesn't just solve the problem of the moment, but prevents future bad things from happening.  There's nothing easier than focusing on who to blame when someone's not paying attention or letting the quality slip. But when kids fall off tables or get injured by faulty fences, suddenly blame seems pretty unimportant. People with the mindset to step in and fix problems no matter who caused them are some of the great unsung heroes of daily life.   

RELATED: 3 Things Vulnerability Can Show Us About Giving Thanks

Making the world a better place is something we're trying to do at Intermountain Healthcare. It's embedded in our mission of 'helping people live the healthiest lives possible.' I'm continually impressed by the culture of service I'm finding here — and I'm looking forward to celebrating it in the coming weeks and years.