It’s that time of the year again, when many of us are concerned about perceived threats to our well-being. For some of us, such threats may take the form of various contagious diseases. However, perhaps the real threat is not an actual disease, but rather a collective decline in society’s ability to be kind, respectful and thoughtful of one another, both in business and at the community level.
I’m reminded of the convocation speech delivered by writer and professor George Saunders to the Syracuse University graduating class of 2013. Saunders’ speech went viral for his encouragement to “err in the direction of kindness,” a directive that struck a chord with millions of people for its implicit prioritization of kindheartedness over career aspirations and wealth. Hearing his speech made people think, if only for a moment, about what it means to be kind.
Why be kind when others aren’t? It saddens me that in today’s pressurized, highly competitive business environment, simple acts of kindness are something many of us have to think about before doing. Too often we find it hard to decide to be kind, courteous, or even vulnerable, based on our fears of how that might impact our careers or social standing.
When I was in the sixth grade, my teacher taped three simple words to the top of the blackboard: Courtesy, Integrity and Ethics. When you entered the classroom each day, you were expected to uphold those standards. Thirty some-odd years later I still remember those words and have used them as a moral compass for the way I live life and how I conduct business.
As someone who has worked with oncology companies for nearly 15 years, and as the spouse of a cancer survivor, I feel I have a keen perspective on what’s important and valuable in life. I see kindness not as a weakness but as an often unrecognized or overlooked strength. Kindness allows us to be empathetic, compassionate and in-touch with the things in life that are truly important. It helps us see through insecurity and rise above petty disagreements.
As we enter the holiday season, I encourage everyone to disregard the emotional walls we may have built over the years as we’ve fought our way forward through business and life, and allow ourselves to engage in conscious acts of simple kindness to those around us. Let each of us find one thing we can do that makes someone’s day just a little better, and perform one simple act of kindness today, tomorrow and each day thereafter. I’m confident the effort will be worth it.
Happy Holidays and cheers to a conscious act of kindness!