A long jumper was getting ready for an important jump. If he crossed a certain threshold, he would go on to compete in the nationals.
The stage was set.
His buddy was down at the pit marking just over where he had to land to make nationals.
As he started his run, he was unaware of one important detail.
This detail would shape the outcome of the jump.
And it would also shape the rest of his life.
As he landed, he beat the mark where his friend was.
But something went wrong.
A loud crack created a false start in the sprint at the other end of the field.
The crack wasn’t the starter pistol.
It was the long jumper’s legs.
The life-changing moment
When he arrived at the start line for the long jump, it was assumed that the pit was prepared and ready to go.
But it wasn’t.
There was a layer of ice just below the surface. The pit had been raked, but they didn’t go deep, so they didn’t know the ice was hidden below.
So as he landed, his legs exploded.
The sound was so loud it created a false start in the sprint at the other end of the field.
His legs folded up like a Leatherman multi-tool, but not the way they were supposed to.
So for the next two years, he was in and out of surgery.
He was in constant pain.
And he spent most of his time in a wheelchair.
Then one day, a little girl came over and touched his leg, and spoke to him.
At that moment, he had a revelation.
Seeing a relationship for the first time
Two years of surgery means a lot of time in a wheelchair and you don’t realize how your human interactions change.
When the little girl came over to him, he realized he had been talking to people’s belt buckles for two years.
And that realization was both remarkable and painful.
Eventually, he got his legs mostly sorted out and left the wheelchair behind.
Then one day, he’s in South America giving a talk.
When the talk ended, there was a traditional lineup for a meet and greet with the speaker.
And he noticed a guy in a wheelchair at the back.
So he was determined to talk to him. To recognize him. And to make sure the man didn’t talk to his belt buckle.
But there was a problem.
Because of the residual damage to his legs, kneeling down wasn’t an easy thing to do.
Meeting the man where he was
Now, when the man in the wheelchair got to him, he knelt down in spite of the difficulty.
And the man in the wheelchair was grateful.
This turned out to be a fortuitous meeting because the man in the wheelchair was a government representative. Which led to the former long jumper being invited to join the man in the wheelchair in meetings with various heads of state around the world.
As I listened to him tell this story, I was moved.
And I thought of him while I was in a restaurant the other day, and a man came to the door in a wheelchair.
He was running up against the door repeatedly, trying to get the attention of the staff. The place was busy, and they were preoccupied.
But he was also below eye level.
I happened to be in direct view of the door. I could see him struggling to get their attention, so I headed down to open the door for him.
“How are you doing?” I asked. “Come on in.”
He came in, and a waitress helped him select his table just to the left of the door.
And as I sat back down, I saw him look over at me. I could tell it was a thank you.
And he joined the rest of us in an enjoyable breakfast experience, all at the same level.
Understanding, empathy, and respect
As I sat down, I thought of Dr. David E. Martin’s story from The Church of Glad Tidings. His insight about talking to belt buckles for two years came back to me.
And I imagined him kneeling to talk to the man he met in line.
He demonstrated understanding and empathy.
He showed the man respect.
And this is something that should come through in your writing.
In B2B, you can get caught up in the idea that you are writing to a faceless company.
But you’re writing to a person.
One human being that deserves respect, understanding, and empathy.
They deserve to be met where they are.
Because when you write with empathy, understanding, and respect, you take the first step toward a relationship.
And all it takes is to consider your audience, where they are, and deliver the right message.