A close encounter

I had been to Vegas many times but this was the first time I had ridden the monorail to the end of the line and got off at the Las Vegas Hilton – formerly the International Hotel — site of 837 consecutive sold-out performances by the King of Rock ‘n Roll, Elvis Presley.

“How far we travel in life matters far less than those we meet along the way.” — Mark Twain, American author and humorist

I had been to Vegas many times but this was the first time I had ridden the monorail to the end of the line and got off at the Las Vegas Hilton – formerly the International Hotel — site of 837 consecutive sold-out performances by the King of Rock ‘n Roll, Elvis Presley.

I stopped at the bronze statue of the King just to the right of the main doors and read the plaque: “To Elvis who will be remembered by the many great artists in the Hilton Showroom and by the millions who enjoyed his great performances on our stage.” I took a picture and then walked inside. After about 15 minutes of wandering around the casino, I approached an old black janitor who was purposefully buffing the floor. I felt a little awkward but reasoned that if anyone would know where I could find the Hilton Showroom he would, and he did. “You a disciple of the King?”

I’d never heard it put quite that way but I nodded my head and smiled. “I’m a big fan, too,” he said, motioning for me to follow him. He led me to the showroom in the southwest corner of the casino.

The double doors were locked so he pulled on the retractable key chain clipped to his belt, unlocked them and looked inside.

“They’re working on the lights,” he said, “but if you’re quiet, it shouldn’t be a problem.”

I thanked him, shook his hand and slipped through the open doorway.

I love meeting new people. Without exception, they all have a story to tell – even if they don’t realize it. Each one has a piece of information that can help us on our journey or shine a light to guide us. In this case, the information led me to the Hilton Showroom but it may just as easily have led me to greater awareness and understanding. If we’re willing to step out of our comfort zone and open up to new people and experiences, we’re often richly rewarded.

For the longest time, I didn’t like meeting new people and mostly because I felt I had nothing worthwhile to say. Being shy, I mostly avoided conversations with people I didn’t know and I certainly would never have approached a stranger to ask for directions or anything else.

As I began to work on building my self-esteem, I began deliberately pushing through my shyness by speaking up more often, initiating conversation and stepping outside the confines of my comfort zone. Today, I see the potential for connection with just about everyone I meet and I seldom feel inhibited by the fact someone is older, younger or from a different culture.

Though we seldom agreed on things, I was always intrigued by my father’s ability to initiate conversation with just about anyone and anywhere. In one of our rare father-son talks he told me that “everyone has something of value to tell you.” I remember thinking, “Could it be that simple?” In the years that followed, I came to realize that the “something of value” could be an actual piece of information, sound advice or maybe just an insight into life itself. By keeping this simple philosophy in mind, it became much easier for me to initiate conversations with people, to remain engaged in those conversations and come away with something of value.

Ernest Hemingway captured it well when he wrote, “When people talk, (you should) listen completely. Most people never listen.” I can’t say I always get this one right, but I’m working on it.

The secret to connecting with people is this: try to understand what people really mean when they speak. Listen with your head and your heart. I have a friend who occasionally teases me about what I say or how I say it but invariably adds, “I knew what you meant.”

If you want to initiate conversations and build connections with people, be a respectful audience. Where people stand, where they sit – wherever they happen to be – is the stage upon which they perform. Allow them to share their story, free of judgment and free of interruption. Really listen to what they say and recognize they are sharing the story with you because it’s important to them. Each word reveals what they value. When you catch a glimpse of what someone values, you see their humanity – it’s a privileged look into their soul.

I was amazed that this gentlemen who had only met me a few minutes before would allow me such a privilege. Maybe that’s the way it is with disciples of the King. There is a short hallway as you enter the auditorium. On the walls are framed pictures of Elvis at the beginning of his seven-year stint at the International, in the middle of his stay and, sadly, near the end. I stood there alone in the darkness, unnoticed by the technicians working on the stage lights. I closed my eyes and imagined Elvis saying, “Welcome to the freaky big International Hotel.”

I wanted to ask this ancient janitor if he had ever met Elvis but he was nowhere to be found when I exited the auditorium. I closed the door quietly behind me and left the casino.

American essayist and psychologist Og Mandino wrote – on the topic of making human connections – “Treat everyone you meet, friend or foe, loved one or stranger, as if they were going to be dead by midnight.

Extend to each person, no matter how trivial the contact, all the care and kindness and understanding and love that you can muster and do it with no thought of any reward.”

To this day, I recall one comment the janitor made about Elvis as he was leading me to the Showroom. I had remarked that Elvis had done an astonishing number of shows over those seven years – far more than any performer today would consider reasonable.

“That kind of effort grates on a man,” he said. “Wears him down clean to the bone.”

Nothing is so poignant as human connections and the lessons we derive from them.

Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert and facilitator. His new book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca

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