The Box Lady Taught Me a Lesson I Shall Never Forget

I was just 20 years old when I began my first real job for a large, multi-billion dollar technology company.  I started out building prototype samples in a lab.  Looking back, I really did not know much about anything technical, except to do what the senior technicians told me to do.  One day, upon completing a sample build, the tech I worked for told me to go to the manufacturing area and get a box from Eva.  (Eva is an older, African-American woman who was in charge of inspecting and packing the products our company produced.) So of course, I walked up to Eva and here is how our conversation went:

“Can I have a box?” I asked.

“Good morning.  How are you?” she replied pleasantly.

“I’m fine.  Can I have a box?”  I repeated slowly and somewhat puzzled.

“Good morning.  How are you?” she replied just as pleasantly as the first time.

“I’m fine. May I have a box, please?” (thinking maybe she was trying to teach me the difference between can and may.)

“Good morning.  How are you?” she replied for the third time.

It finally penetrated my dense and youthful skull.  I replied as sweetly and sincerely as I knew how, “Good morning, Eva.  How are you?”

She answered, “I’m doing just fine today. Thanks for asking. How can I help you?”

“I’d like a box, please, if you don’t mind,” I said with a big grin on my face.

“Sure, let me give you this one right here.  I’ve already taped up the edges and lined it with the packing material,” she said as she handed me the box.

That day, I learned the most valuable lesson in my life about dealing with people.  I learned the importance of connecting with people.  Or, as my dad told me, “Make friends before you make demands.”

Fifteen years later, I left that company.  On my final day there, I saw Eva in the cafeteria enjoying her lunch.  I took a moment to recount the story to her and to tell her how much that story meant to me and what I had learned from it.  After I had finished telling her what I had learned, she left me with yet another life lesson.  While I thought I had learned about being polite, she encouraged to me remember that in life, everyone plays an important role. Whether it’s taping up boxes or building samples, we depend on each other to get the job done.  The lesson she tried to teach me that day was not so much about being polite (as I had thought) as it was about respecting and appreciating the role that each of us play in the game of life.  And she’s right.  Despite the millions of dollars we spent on equipment, engineers, and raw material, no part was ever shipped to our customer without a box.

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