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How I personally benefitted from kindness in the workplace
Over the last few weeks I have been blogging about kindness at work. We’ve looked at why kindness is important at work and how easy it is for our habits to get in the way and prevent us from being kind. Now it’s time to share a personal story of how I experienced kindness in the workplace in a way that really helped me when I needed it most. It came from an unexpected source—a shoemaker specialising in orthopaedic shoes.
A few years ago I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. No-one else in my family suffers from it, so I was surprised and dismayed when I found out. It can be pretty debilitating both because of the pain as well as the damage to joints. It does not help you to feel youthful! You just have to get used to managing it, adapting to a change of pace and keeping positive.
Shoes have never really been my thing
In my hippy days I used to walk barefoot most of the time and even now, I long to kick off my shoes when I get home. My dressing style favours bold colours and unusual shapes. It’s important to me to feel anything is possible and that I don’t have to follow any rules.
When my specialist advised me to get orthopaedic shoes to help with my walking, my reaction was pretty strong. It seemed like a whole part of who I am was being consigned to the rubbish dump. From now on, I would need to clump around in heavy ugly shoes, and everyone would stare at me!
Santulli Orthopedie B.V. maker of orthopaedic shoes
My GP provided me with a list of possible vendors, and I began to look for somewhere close to where I live. I ended up going to Santulli Orthopedie, a maker of orthopaedic shoes in Amsterdam, just because it was not too far away.
When I got there, I just felt depressed. I have never been in a shoemakers’ before, so I had nothing to compare the shop with. I was just so sure that it was all going to make me miserable.
A glimmer of hope
In fact, it was very pleasant to be so warmly greeted by Caroline, the receptionist and office manager. She easily spoke to me in English, as my Dutch is not yet good enough to manage a whole conversation. My partner and I were offered tea and coffee and made to feel welcome. Her manner is practical and business like, but all the time infused with warmth and understanding. My appreciation for how she is has only grown over the time I have been going there.
The turning point
I was asked to go through to the fitting area of the shop. Here I was not surprised to find an irritable older woman, dressed in grey and being very difficult. It all fitted my mood and my idea of the kind of people who wear orthopaedic shoes.
I watched the interaction between the grumpy woman and the person serving her. I did not then but this was Claudio, the frontman for the team who deals with most of the customers. Gradually it dawned on me that he was being very gentle, humorous and patient. He didn’t react at all to the woman’s irritability.
After a bit he went down to workshop to pick up the shoes the woman had come to collect. Imagine my amazement when he returned carrying a pair of bright red ankle boots that anyone would have been delighted to wear! He put them on for the woman and she walked about a bit to make sure they fitted well. Here was this woman who represented everything that frightened me about orthopaedic shoes walking elegantly out of the shop in a pair of dazzling red boots!
My fitting for my first orthopaedic shoes
Then it was my turn. While all the measurements were being taken Claudio explained each stage to explained to me. Like Caroline, his manner was practical but warm and gentle. He knew when I was likely to lose my balance. Whenever I wobbled he offered me his shoulder to hold on to. It was clear to me that he really understood how the people who come to his shop might be feeling. Immediately it became easier for me to relax.
When it came time to choose the style and design of my orthopaedic Claudio really lit up. By then I had started to look around me a bit more and saw the variety and originality of the shoes that were on display. There are racks of leather samples to choose from. Instead of the drab browns and greys that I had been dreading, there were all the colours of the rainbow! Not only that—there were leathers that shone, glittered and changed colour in the light. It is like an Aladdin’s cave for shoemakers.
Claudio took time to sense my preferences and then made suggestions to help me decide. We settled on a style and chose two contrasting kinds of leather. You get a little sample of the leathers you’ve chosen to take home with you.
A family business
I have just brought home my third pair of orthopaedic shoes made at Santulli Orthopedie B.V. It turns out that they are very familiar with the rules of each health insurance provider and can advise you when you qualify for your next pair of shoes. These ones I just bought are made of soft blue leather that sort of glows, with an inlay of glittery blue. There is even a contrasting stripe along the sole of the shoe. They really are beautiful and I feel great wearing them
It turns out that the Santulli family came originally from Italy, so it’s no wonder they have such an eye for colour and style. Claudio’s father still works there, along with several other members of the family. Perhaps that it is why kindness is so effortlessly woven into everything they do. All day and everyday people come to them to have shoes made because they have some kind of problem with their feet. There is a fundamental, unspoken acknowledgement that having problems walking is not something people enjoy, along with a mischievous intention to at least have some fun while you deal with it.
The more I come to know them, the more I see that along with the service they provide in making orthopaedic shoes, they offer an empathic understanding that this might not have been your choice. There is nothing sentimental, or sticky about this but a down-to-earth kindness that nourishes the heart.
If you have found the ideas in this post interesting you might like to look at my new online course, How to Make Kindness Matter at Work. You can find out more here.