… pretty much changed my life.
It’s not what you’re probably thinking… one degree of separation from the President of the United States IS pretty cool, but what really struck me about this woman is her heart. Like, wow. Seriously, if you ever have the opportunity, you need to meet her. Maya Soetoro-Ng is the NICEST person I’ve ever met. EVER. IN MY LIFE.
“Kind people are the best kind of people.”
~ Author Unknown
She didn’t even know it, but she taught me valuable life lessons that day. I’ll try to put it into words… First of all, she is welcoming. I went over to say hi to her backstage at TEDxMaui and she says “Hi honey!” and gives me a HUGE hug. Then she grabs me and says, “Let’s take a picture!” (My husband/assistant was toting a giant professional camera) We take a photo and she exclaims “Are we cute?!” My kind of woman! ha ha! We started chatting and she tells me, “Sometimes I don’t know who I know or who I don’t know so I just call everyone honey.” That’s a good rule to live by, don’t you think? I must have gotten three hugs from her in that very short interaction! She made me feel important… and like I was her friend.
“Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.”
~ James Matthew Barrie
Lesson 1: Express genuine enthusiasm for every interaction.
In fact, by the way she interacts with people you wouldn’t be able to differentiate between her long-time friends and someone she just met. She treats everyone the same. Which is something we all SHOULD do. Let’s be real though… I don’t know about you, but personally, that’s something that doesn’t come naturally to me. I suppose over the years, I’ve become a bit jaded. I’ve started to put up some walls. It’s hard to know who you can trust and I’m selective with my time, energy and “niceness” – reserving it for my family, friends and co-workers. Meeting Maya really opened my eyes and reminded me of the “Miss Aloha” that is hidden within. We all have the “aloha” in there somewhere, we just need to share it.
“It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.”
~ Author Unknown
Lesson 2: Treat everyone like they are your friend.
At one point, I was gushing about the president and said “You must get tired of hearing people gush about him.” That’s when I learned that she gets “not-so-nice” emails from people all the time. It really puts things into perspective. The very thing that closes me off from being “free” in my interactions with people, occurs in her life on a regular basis. Yet SHE is still able to be open, inviting, kind and genuine in her interactions with all those she encounters.
“Treat everyone with politeness, even those who are rude to you — not because they are nice, but because you are.”
~ Author Unknown
Lesson 3: Rise above the chatter.
By chance, we ended up sitting side-by-side at lunch. I really enjoyed watching her interact with the college students also seated at our table. It was like watching a case study on human interaction… Communicology at its best! It was so refreshing to see that the most intriguing person at our table was so genuine and sincere in wanting to know about everyone else! She made every person sitting at that table feel like they MATTERED.
“The purpose of life is to . . . matter; to feel it has made some difference that we have lived at all.”
~ Leo Rosten
Lesson 4: Being self-involved only gets you so far, learning about others can only be enriching.
As Maya and her co-worker Dr. Kerrie Urosevich took the stage at TEDxMaui it became clear why Maya is the way she is. Her message was centered on “Peace Building” and the skill set required to do so. Conflict resolution, critical thinking, compassion and collaboration are the CEEDS of Peace they spoke about. The character traits I had witnessed in her, the behaviors that inspired me – kindness, inclusion and understanding – are not so different from “Peace Building.” Some might argue they are one and the same. It clicked for me.
“Every interaction matters.” ~ Dr. Maya Soetoro-Ng & Dr. Kerrie Urosevich
Lesson 5: Plant “Ceeds of peace.”
And finally, being nice doesn’t mean anything if it’s not genuine and sincere.
“A fellow who does things that count, doesn’t usually stop to count them.”
~ Variation of a saying by Albert Einstein
You can’t fake it. BUT, as Dr. BJ Fogg, one of the other TEDxMaui speakers, remarked that day – “Practice behaviors that you WANT and they will become automatic.” He spoke about his “Maui habit” of starting each day by saying “It’s going to be a great day!”
I’m going to call the lessons I learned from the POTUS’s sis - the “Maya Habit” and practice them each day!
“A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees.”
~ Amelia Earhart
**In addition to being an exceptional human being, Maya Soetoro-Ng is Director of Community Outreach and Global Learning at the Matsunaga Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution at UH Manoa.**