Monday, April 14, 2014

The Six Pillars of Civility - Awareness

Awareness is the third pillar of civility in this series, The Six Pillars of Civility. These fundamental human qualities are all required in equal balance in our lives in order for us to help build and sustain a healthy community. In the fast-paced, time-starved lifestyle many of us choose to follow, being aware of the people and events around us, and how we affect them seems to vanish. I view this as a tragedy and a real danger to any community where civility is the desired tone.

How often are we too busy to congratulate our friends and family for reaching certain milestones and accomplishments in their lives? None of us seems to be immune from this affliction today. We forget birthdays and anniversaries; and we don’t seem to have time to write simple thank you notes. A lot of us can’t even manage to RSVP an invitation. Some might ask, “What’s the big deal?” In my opinion, the “big deal” is the erosion to friendships and important connections that we as human beings desire and need. A healthy society requires many, many connections. None of us can live in a vacuum. We need one another for survival. Does it not make sense for awareness to be a much higher priority in our daily lives? Could we potentially be happier as a result?

I have found that by taking the time to check my surroundings on a regular basis allows me to engage even more attentively with my associates. I can be more conscious of my place in the world and attuned to people and things around me. With awareness comes security and confidence. We cannot forget that as human beings, we make mistakes, we have personal challenges, and we want to succeed. With greater awareness, we accommodate compassion and humility, the first two pillars of civility discussed in these pages previously.

Too often we glide through life, whether at home or at work, with no real sense of what’s happening. Sometimes we are oblivious because we are so wrapped up in our own personal lives that it appears that we don’t actually care about other people. We miss out by elimination, and too narrow a focus.

When this happens in the workplace, feelings of isolation can develop, bringing progress to a screeching halt. It can also impede our ability to succeed in our chosen career. Teamwork is usually a vital component to a healthy and encouraging business environment. Teamwork requires an acute awareness of what our other teammates are doing. Without this finely honed skill, everyone suffers.

Awareness brings to mind two familiar phrases. One is 'deer in headlights'. The other is 'stop to smell the roses'. How often are we caught unawares; and how many times do we feel life is rushing by us too quickly to stop and really enjoy what we are doing, and with whom we are doing it - even if it is ourselves? Slowing down to allow the blur of life to come into focus actually helps us to achieve more of our goals, whatever they may be – a happy family, a successful career, even both?

Taking the time to assess what we are doing, what our real intentions are for doing it, and how this all impacts those around us is how we can live most happily and work most effectively. Awareness leads to respectful interactions with everyone we encounter. This dynamic is essential to maintaining a healthy productive work environment, as well as in familial or social situations. Retaining the best talent in any given circumstance requires awareness, respectful communication, and compassion.

How aware are you of the impact you have on your fellow human beings? Take a step back and examine the importance of awareness. If you want to improve the climate in your life, raise your level of awareness. People will notice.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Six Pillars of Civility - Humility

Humility is the second of the Six Pillars of Civility. These six pillars evolved from a theory I have been developing about civility and how it pertains to our lives and our interconnectedness with everything around us. I hope you will occasionally stop and consider how these foundational principles are at play in your life, the lives of your family and the broader community in which you live and work.

I remember many years ago while I was living in New York, a group of friends got together and formed an organization similar to the Make a Wish Foundation. Nothing can be more humbling than reaching out to a child whom you know will not grow into a young adult. Granting him or her a wish, showering some happiness and temporary relief from the harsh realities of life is a true act of kindness. Reading all of the applications and deciding from a needs-based assessment which child’s wish will be granted is an onerous task. When the committee of volunteer fundraisers met, the first rule was to “check your attitude at the door”. Enter this gathering with positive intentions in order to grant a wish. Think beyond yourselves and consider what it will mean to someone in great need of joy. We all need to be reminded from time to time that there are many people in the world who are sustained by the kindness of others. Humility reminds us that on almost every level, we are all equals. The continued success of this group and many, many others similar to it, testifies to just how important this service is to both the givers and the receivers.

Connecting on a level of humility exposes us to ourselves and to others in ways that can overstep our comfort zones. We gain new perspectives when we allow ourselves to embrace others. We naturally try to protect ourselves from fear and insecurity but learn that we must take risks in order to benefit those in need. I say take the risk. These connections are often the strongest and most meaningful and intimate that we will ever be lucky enough to make.

It is not uncommon in the workplace to hear people bandy around the word humility, where it is often misunderstood. To me, in a nutshell, it boils down to the core principle that there are no 'big shots'. No matter what our professional position or achievements, no matter our social station, and no matter our wealth or education, we all have great value. This is not to say that we cannot hold people in high regard, or that without them our lives would be less fulfilling. But the shoe is often on the other foot, and we too are held in high regard and help to fulfill others’ lives more times than we may ever know.

In a healthy business climate, teamwork is vitally important. This dynamic is sadly missing in too many workplaces today and has a severe effect on a company’s bottom line. A lack of humility, especially at the highest levels, is also one of the main reasons why so many good employees leave to find employment with companies where such a toxic climate is not present.

Take a moment to consider what the humility level is in your place of employment, especially if you are an executive. Good leaders are measured by their ability to make their employees feel valuable, and ought to reflect the performance of leadership. If there is a weak link in your business, taking a look at your humility meter may be a good idea!

Any responsible company should be acutely aware of this sort of frightening attrition rate and act quickly to reverse it. Sadly, reversing such a dynamic within a company takes time. Sometimes it never even happens. In the meantime, scores of employees’ lives are being negatively affected. Is this how we want to be treating one another? Think about it!

Humility is a human quality that we usually display with equal ignorance or skill whether at home, on the ball field, or at work. Being kind and understanding needs to begin at home. For those of us who were raised to believe that people are of different value, we need to stop and as any GPS system will instruct – Recalculate! The next generation needs to be raised in a sustainable environment where everyone reveres humility. Let’s try to practice the essentials of self worth, how we relate to others, the value of socialization, and an all-encompassing outlook of how each of us fits into the world puzzle.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Six Pillars of Civility - Compassion

Over the past few years I have developed the Six Pillars of Civility. In the next six weeks, I am going to explore these six fundamental building blocks of humanity, which in my opinion are crucial to maintaining a civilized society. These qualities are important not only to society as a whole, but also to the communities in which we live, work, and play. I hope these words will give you pause to think about how each of these qualities resonates with you and how each is incorporated into you daily routine.

Compassion for me is the most complex key word. It’s one of those words that many of us do not truly understand. For those of us who do understand and experience compassion, we can find it a real challenge in applying it successfully to people or situations outside of ourselves. It can be even more challenging to have true compassion for ourselves? We set impossibly high standards for ourselves, and when we don't reach them, we beat ourselves up. Perhaps we need to give ourselves a break every once in a while. We are, after all, human beings. We all have frailties. We need to accept this and in fact embrace it. For without these inherent flaws, we would not be the unique and amazing individuals that we are.

In our personal lives, we experience disappointments that can leave us with feelings of unworthiness, sadness, or depression. And we also have the ability to sense these feelings in our friends and family members. As our friends and loved ones experience negative emotions, we can greatly help them work through these difficult times by being present, which is one important way showing compassion. This does not mean we must fix any particular situation, but it does mean we need to show up.

I remember once a friend explaining to me that if given a chance to go to someone’s wedding or go to someone’s funeral, pick the funeral. It is during times of stress that our friends really need us. How often are we there for our friends? How often are we there for ourselves?

Having compassion is also important in our professional lives. We make different interpersonal connections at work than we do socially, with different people and under a completely different set of rules and dynamics. However the underlying principles do not differ.

A friend recently phoned and related to me how his life was unraveling at an uncontrollable speed. He had failed in business; he had failed at home; and he felt like he was in fact a total failure. This is not the sort of phone call one relishes; however, as the expression goes, “a friend in need, is a friend in deed”. Because he was a friend who needed a sympathetic ear, I knew I needed to take the time to listen carefully to what he had to say. In the end I could do very little other than commiserate with him. I too have experienced failures professionally and personally. It is part of the human condition. Most of you are nodding your heads in complete understanding as you are reading this. Allowing ourselves to make mistakes, to forgive ourselves, and to move on and hopefully avoid repeating the same mistake is what we must do.

He explained that this is more easily said than done. How can one argue with such a statement? It’s true. Life has challenges. Rarely are such challenges too difficult to cope with. When life seems to be overwhelming, we can count on our friends. Many people use the excuse that they don’t want to be a bother. My advice is to be a bother. We cannot fight all of our personal battles alone; nor do we need to.

How we look at ourselves in relation to those around us carries through from one life experience to another. There is always a separation between one person and another, because we do not truly know what is going on in anyone else’s life but our own. Everyone has his or her own challenges and struggles. While not being overly intrusive in others’ lives, we must take responsibility for ours.

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.”   The Dalai Lama

Sunday, November 10, 2013

When Things Go Terribly Wrong at a Lovely Dinner Party

I went to a lovely dinner party one evening some time ago where I was reminded that indeed there are times when we must muster up all of our best restraint and always take the high road. Whether hosting a dinner or attending as a guest there are certain rules one follows – hopefully. This evening drew my attention to two of the most basic of faux pas. I have always advised to not bring along uninvited guests. Imagine the turmoil created when suddenly a table, beautifully set for eight people, suddenly needs to be switched out for nine? As we all know a seated dinner party requires a lot of planning, as we want to make the evening special and memorable. Deciding where our guests will sit is part of this planning process, and to be forced to accommodate an unexpected guest is inconsiderate and also requires rejigging the seating plan, sometimes extensively. As far as I am concerned this is even more of an inconvenience and sign of disrespect than showing up carrying an arm full of unarranged flowers, expecting the host to be able to drop everything and arrange them in a suitable vase on the spot! Add to the situation that the new guest has a big personality and must be strategically seated so as not to overwhelm or irritate anyone, and it’s easy to see why this situation is very awkward. Make no mistake about it; the invited guest was at fault, not the surprise date. At least have the common courtesy to phone ahead and ask if it’s all right to bring a date.

The second potentially volatile episode occurred in between the main course and dessert. Half the people had gotten up for a bit of a stretch and the few of us who remained changed conversation partners. Before I knew it, I was being warned about the dubious quality of work performed by another person at the table who was well within earshot of these remarks. Needless to say, I was taken aback, to the point where I leaned over and in a whisper, asked him if he was talking about the person sitting next to me. He said he was. I suggested that perhaps we could talk about another subject. With a bit of a confused look, he acquiesced.

The point of sharing these two incidents is to illustrate a couple of important principles we need to keep more in the forefront our minds. In the first example, the principle of boundaries and respect is challenged. I don’t care how casually we think we live our lives, have respect for other people who may do things a bit more traditionally. This whole incident could have become an incendiary were it not for the seasoned host who showed true grace under fire. A good host always accommodates surprise guests whenever possible, even if it means stretching the food and wine.

The second situation illustrates the principle I discussed a couple of weeks a go in this column. It is one of Stephen Covey’s core principles, namely to speak about people who are absent as though they were present. In this case, the intention was obviously malicious because the person wasn’t absent. Displaying such behavior in someone else’s house is ill advised. It can be extremely embarrassing and damaging, as most gossip tends to be. Using alcohol as an excuse is over used and rather pathetic. There is never any good reason to wake up in the morning regretting something spoken the night before.

If we do find ourselves in a situation where an apology needs to be made, and some forgiveness needs to be shared, then so be it. Call or send a note and make a heartfelt apology. Express a lot of gratitude for the hospitality extended. Ask for forgiveness if necessary. Sincerity has a way of clearing the air and makes a smoother path for forgiveness to be extended. Some hosts can be most forgiving, especially those of us who have behaved badly in the past ourselves. As human beings we are going to behave regrettably upon occasion. We’re complicated and often ill equipped to gracefully handle some of life’s challenges. Compassion for us and for others is important to incorporate into our lives to help smooth some of the rough times.

This little party on balance was great fun. I use it only as an example of how our behavior can influence the lives of others both in good and in bad ways. It happens in our social lives, and it happens in our professional lives. Most importantly, these behaviors dominate our lives at home and of those with whom we live. If we want a kinder and gentler world, we need to begin by having a kinder and gentler community, and that begins at home.