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The Kindness Meter in Various Cities

Jimmy Joe /​/​Flickr The Kindness Meter in Various Cities
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Returning home last Monday from a weekend trip to visit our newly transplanted daughter and her family in Seattle, we had a delightful conversation with our Uber driver, a native Pittsburgher, on the way back from the airport. He had recently retired from his full time job, but enjoys meeting people and figured driving for Uber would allow him to welcome visitors to the city. Since then, I’ve been reflecting on how enjoyable it is to return to a town where people reach out to strangers and each other alike and will go out of their way to be friendly. In Seattle, the Freeze is alive and well, and our daughter confirmed that “Welcome, stranger” was not a greeting she had heard yet. The two very different attitudes of the local populations made me wonder if, as Pittsburgh attracts more smart young techies and entrepreneurs, we can maintain our Welcome to Our City culture.

I’ve travelled to over a dozen cities across 11 time zones in the past two months, and in thinking back to my experiences in the various places I’ve been, trying to pinpoint what it is that makes a city friendly — or not. My conclusion is that friendliness begins with individual acts of kindness towards people who have no expectations of being the recipients of them. I stopped for a haircut in Amsterdam last month and the barber, a nice young guy, laughed when he considered what he could do with my mostly bald head, and offered me a beer and a meatball. The offer was genuine, unexpected and totally appreciated. That single act went a long way towards making me believe that Dutch people, in addition to being very tall, are very friendly.

You’re probably thinking: “What’s the point here?” The point is that for a number of reasons, including a no-​holds-​barred election campaign and the feeling a lot of us have that the world is adrift, people are angry. Tempers are shorter, arguments are louder, and I don’t see a lot of people who are whistling while they’re working.

Pittsburgh, in its own small way is a bit of an island in that sea of anger, and our visitors notice it. I hosted a meeting of my U.S. partners two weeks ago, and several remarked how nice Pittsburghers are to visitors. We are friendly here, and it ultimately begins with individual acts of kindness towards strangers.

To our new bright, highly motivated residents who are transforming Pittsburgh into a destination and to the people who have been here for generations, I would ask you continue the tradition. Kindness goes a long way and will ensure that our town continues to enjoy the reputation for being a nice place to visit as well as a wonderful place to live.

Tom Flannery

Tom Flannery is the Managing Partner of the Pittsburgh office of Boyden Executive search. He has worked in search for the past 30 years, initially with a local boutique firm that he owned and for the past 17 years with Boyden. Tom’s early career included ten years with Gulf Oil in a series of marketing positions and another eight as owner and president and owner of a multi-​state distribution company he acquired from Gulf and several other related businesses. Tom’s business literally takes him around the world and the people he has met in his travels have provided him with an inexhaustible supply of anecdotes, reminiscences, and tales, some compelling and some somber. Writing is an important part of his business as he presents candidates to his clients and has been part of his life since he started writing short stories when he was in grade school. As he has begun to wind down his career, Tom wants to devote more time to writing and sharing some of what he encounters enjoys and endures on a daily basis. Tom is a Pittsburgh native, a father of two grown children, a grandfather of three and lives in Fox Chapel with his wife, Stephanie.

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