A Gown in the Night

by Andy Wood on November 12, 2014

in LV Stories

KemmererJCPenney

Jim was hardly the first businessman to ever try to operate by the Golden Rule.  But he was one of the few who actually put the name Golden Rule over the dry goods store he co-owned and ran in Kimmerer, Wyoming.  So I suppose when your store name means, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and when you choose to live with your wife across the street from the Golden Rule store that you run, it would probably be a good idea to practice what you preach.

Fortunately, the founders of the Golden Rule chain had found in young Jim a work ethic and care for people that would make him an excellent business partner and store manager.

Simply put, Jim was a servant leader before people ever talked of such things.

All that was put to the test one night when Jim and his wife were awakened by a loud banging at his door.  There stood a Chinese man who spoke no English, gesturing with great agitation, beckoning Jim to open his store.

What would you do?  Point to a clock and ask the man to come back when the big hand got there and the little hand got there?  Close the door and go back to bed?  Call the police?

Jim put himself in the place of his manic visitor and chose a different path.  He put on his day clothes, lit a lamp, and crossed the dark street.  Jim marveled as the stranger went from shelf to shelf, looking for a specific item.  Finally the Chinese man found a white nightgown hanging from the ceiling and bought it.

Applying the Golden Rule again, Jim offered to wrap the purchase; his guest refused and insisted that the store manager follow him around the corner to his own laundry shop.

Seriously?  Let’s just call it a night, Jim.  The man has what he was so anxious to get, and you need your sleep.

Golden Rule time again.  Jim followed his new friend back to the laundry shop, where a man sat in the back, writhing in pain.  He was dying, and soon.  Together Jim and the Chinese host dressed the ailing man, and then Mr. Golden Rule finally returned to his house, confused as to why a man would want to wear a female nightgown.

The next day Jim learned that the old man had died in the night.  After some inquiry, he also learned that, according to Chinese tradition, dressing in white was necessary to come into the presence of ancestors.  He later remarked of the experience, “I had learned how much people can want to be treated just as people.  I, in turn, had been given the chance to do a service.”

You never know when you may have the opportunity to do a service.  But you’ll only have such rich opportunities when you extend kindness and care beyond the limits of your convenience and comfort zones.  What if that happened today, and the guest only spoke Arabic?  What if he was covered with piercings and tattoos, or dressed in a peculiar way?  How bad would it have to be… how many lines would he have to cross before he exceeded the reach of YOUR Golden Rule?

One thing is certain – responding to needs at midnight with the heart of a servant creates opportunities later to respond to needs at noontime.  And sowing kindness in the darkness, when no one else is looking, will lead to reaping greatly when every eye is awake.

People just want to be treated as people.  That’s the lesson young James Cash Penney learned at the Golden Rule stores in Wyoming – later to become J.C. Penney. And that lesson carried him far as a businessman, leader, and entrepreneur, opening more than 1,400 stores by 1929.

Anybody knocking on your door lately?

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