Whilst we’re talking about jobs-we-get-to-do-that-we’re-not-very-qualified-for, let’s talk about spreadsheets. No, stay with me, this is a warm fuzzy story with a happy ending…
We have a spreadsheet which keeps track of all our business finances. Occasionally, we even remember to put some numbers in the boxes. But we decided we needed to make use of some of those bewildering features which Excel has – features which retrieve the right bit of data from over there, decide which column it needs to go in over here, adds it to that one there and then tells you whether you can afford to go out tonight.
I used to teach an Advanced Excel course, so I know my way around it, but after several hours of faffing around, I was no further forward. I simply could not get it to work the way I wanted it to. So I decided to venture into a dark and mysterious world which I rarely enter – newsgroups.
Newsgroups are a strange world. They’re the internet-underground, the kind of place your average internet user wouldn’t even know about, unless they were looking to enjoy conversations with like-minded people about things like metallurgy or miniature piston engines.
But what’s also down there is a vast array of groups devoted to any computer program you’ve ever heard of, and a lot you haven’t. So I posted a question in one of them, asking for any ideas to help solve my problem. Within an hour, I had two replies, which ultimately led me to my solution.
These guys were obviously experts in using Excel. And they invested time and energy in solving a problem for me, a complete stranger. And here’s the thing: it was completely free. And I don’t think this was something which took them just a moment or two either. Perhaps I can illustrate this point by showing you the solution which one of them came up with. Here it is:
See, you just don’t pick up a pen and write that, do you? You’d have to think for a few minutes, wouldn’t you? This fellow invested himself, for no tangible reward, in helping me to solve my problem. Even though I’d hoped for an answer, when it came I felt genuinely touched, as if a fellow pilgrim had reached out to offer a helping hand through the ether…
With a bit of work and adaptation, his model was working swimmingly for me, and I wrote to thank him. This is what he wrote back: Hi Jeff, thanks for your kind words. Many posters do not even feed back to the newsgroups that a solution has worked for them, so it is very heartening that you have done not only that, but also taken the trouble to contact me directly. Your words are very warming, and I'm pleased that I was able to help you. Regards, Pete
I looked through the newsgroup, and saw his name - and several others - appearing regularly against people’s questions. These people are helping to change the world by spreading a little outrageous kindness for no reward other than the joy of doing good to their fellow (frustrated) human being. And many people don’t even say thanks. But that's not what makes it worthwhile, is it? The quote at the top is from Wordsworth: "The little unremembered acts of kindness and love are the best parts of a person's life." Have a good day, Pete.